Skilligalee may not bow to trendiness, but it treats seafood classics with care. 

Serious Seafood

[image-1](Stacy Warner / richmond.com) When got its name, its proprietors undoubtedly assumed nobody would know what skilligalee meant. And nobody seems to, except, of course, for the erudite editors of the Oxford English Dictionary who tell us that skilligalee is a much-despised flour and water paste traditionally served to sailors. You won't find anything that resembles a flour and water paste on this traditional American seafood menu, but the name does suit the restaurant's nautical theme. Skilligalee's weathered wooden walls bear the décor usually associated this genre — mounted trophy fish, nets and other sun-bleached clichés too tiresome to inventory. Nevertheless, its dinning rooms are dimly lit, quiet and surprisingly inviting.

If you like to get your steaks at a steakhouse and your seafood at a seafood place, then Skilligalee is your kind of restaurant. In today's climate in which excellent fresh seafood is readily available at countless restaurants, it is tempting to dismiss a place like Skilligalee as obsolete. However, there are dishes conventional seafood restaurants take seriously that few others do.

Take, for example, shrimp cocktail. This is a dish that progressive foodies disparage as passé country-club fare. But not the kitchen at Skilligalee, which capitalizes on the opportunity to serve shrimp cooked precisely to the point of perfection then shocked on ice to arrest the cooking. The result is a handful of large, tail-on neatly deveined shrimp that are succulent, tender and ice cold ($9.95). A squirt of lemon and just a touch of cocktail sauce and it becomes clear to even the most skeptical just why the dish as been around so long.

Unfortunately, the shrimp cocktail turned out to be the high point of a recent meal. A special appetizer of mussels steamed with white wine and garlic butter ($5.95) was only adequate, and undersized at that. To add to its mediocrity, Skilligalee's commercial house rolls made for less than satisfactory dunking — usually a highlight in any mussels dish.

[image-2](Stacy Warner / richmond.com) Though its fare emphasizes the time-honored, Skilligalee has made a few concessions to trendy cuisine. Amidst appetizers such as oysters Rockefeller ($7.95), and steamed clams ($7.95), and entrees such as crab imperial ($19.95), baked flounder stuffed with crabmeat ($18.95), and the extravagant whole Maine lobster stuffed with crab imperial ($36.95), there are few novelties. Take, for example, the mildly innovative oysters Chesapeake ($7.95) baked with cheddar, wasabi and bacon.

To test Skilligalee's foray into the trendy, we sampled a pasta dish with sautéed shrimp, scallops and andouille sausage over penne with a roasted red pepper and garlic cream ($17.95). Skilligalee's version of this popular combination was a hair above average, and its kitchen deserves praise for neither skimping on, nor overcooking the seafood.

In addition to its regular entrées, Skilligalee allows diners to choose a fish from its fresh fish selection to be blackened, broiled, sautéed, grilled or fried, and then sauced with a choice of ginger-teriyaki, tomato-basil cream or picatta with mushrooms. On our visit, the fish selection included salmon, tilapia, grouper, flounder, swordfish, rainbow trout, rockfish and yellowfin tuna. We opted for grilled rockfish with picatta, which is a caper, lemon and olive oil sauce ($17.95). Unfortunately, the rockfish was a little tough and dry (perhaps our fault for ordering it grilled) and the picatta, though pleasantly salty and tangy, failed to liven up what turned out to be a rather dull plate.

Entrees come with a choice of two side dishes. We tried collard greens, baked apples, spoon bread and fries. None was outstanding. Still, side dishes like this are always fun, even if a little reminiscent of cafeteria fare.

[image-3](Stacy Warner / richmond.com) Finally, the dessert menu is long and includes all the usual suspects. We opted for something that sounded different, a special espresso pie ($4.50), which tasted like a shot of nondescript liquor and weak coffee whipped into cream and frozen in a commercial pie shell. Warmed bread pudding ($2.95) was substantially better, especially with a scoop of ice cream on top.

If the prospect of pricey seafood classics in a subdued comfortable atmosphere appeals to you, then Skilligalee is worth a visit. But if you like your seafood dishes a little more au courant, then you'd do better spending your dollars elsewhere.


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