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Scallops with rice grits, bacon, kale, olive oil, lemon, Parmesan and squid ink (Photo by Alexis Courtney)
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East Coast Provisions' interior (Photo by Alexis Courtney)
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Truffled sashimi (Photo by Alexis Courtney)
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Shaved octopus (Photo by Alexis Courtney)
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Cereal milk panna cotta (Photo by Alexis Courtney)
2003 was my bartending watershed year, the point in time that introduced me to a properly mixed martini: gin with goodly vermouth, and stirred, not shaken, as was vogue. I was waiting tables and drinking in New York City in the midst of a cocktail renaissance that predated Richmond’s by a decade. But that elixir wasn’t from one of the city’s trendsetting bottle churches — it was knocked back at The Sea Grill in Rockefeller Center overlooking the ice-skating rink. Martinis were classic at this tourist bar, as was seafood. The restaurant offered a middle ground between grubbing at Red Lobster and dining on the haute plates cast from Le Bernardin’s pantry. East Coast Provisions’ approachable menu and casual, contemporary elegance reminds me of that Rock Center standard.
Like The Sea Grill, East Coast Provisions is owned by a restaurant group, and of all the Richmond Restaurant Group stores including The Hill Café, The Daily Kitchen & Bar, Pearl Raw Bar and both locations of The Hard Shell, East Coast is, by far, the sexiest. A name change and a $750,000 renovation transformed the dark dining room and tinkling water features of Carytown’s Water Coastal Kitchen into an open multistory with mirrored, aqua booths encased behind glass walls. Looking upstairs from the host stand is like staring into a teal Monterey Beach Barbie Dreamhouse. You can see the action on both floors.
What to order? The Salt Air Margarita and broiled oysters, to start. You’ll need a sip and a snack to give the massive menu its due. Executive chef Trevor Knotts, formerly of The Betty on Davis, The Daily, and EAT by Pescados, fleshed out the bill of fare, which includes whole, roasted fish, steak, sushi, caviar and a raw bar, assisted by operating partner and RRG executive chef Michelle Williams, and corporate executive chef Mike Ledesma, who once headed Patina. You can taste Williams’ influence in the sushi menu, where I gravitate to maki: compact bites you needn’t stuff your mouth to eat. East Coast avoids the heavy sauces currently popular in favor of balance and fresh garnishes. California rolls are made with king crab, not surimi. The fried lobster, sorrel and avocado combo deftly melds, no soy sauce or wasabi needed. One exception is the truffled sashimi — salmon, tuna and hamachi — that sinks into a deep bowl of ponzu, chili and truffle oils I’d prefer on the side. The liquids overwhelm, an edible dominatrix that overpowers the delicate raw fish.
Try the fried hearts of palm “calamari” appetizer, a new vegan seafood tower staple. Battered rings of hearts of palm mimic the bouncy, meaty texture of fried squid. Blistered cherry tomatoes become encapsulated marinara. Also try the whole, meltingly tender pompano with Brussels sprouts. The kitchen separates the leaves and adds apples and candied walnuts, turning a ubiquitous wintry veg into a nutty, tart chopped salad.
Where East Coast occasionally eddies is with over/under seasoning. The meaty, tarragon lobster roll has a pinch of too much herb, a blackened chicken sandwich needs less cooking and more blackening. The restaurant could train up some servers, too; one scraped and stacked our dishes into a crockery Jenga tower. Another swooped up appetizer plates without asking. Sayonara, awesome sauce. My final quibble: the wine list. Instead of a West Coast offering, how about an East Coast wine option by the glass? They’re lower in body and alcohol, and a better fit for the “provisions” theme of seafood from the East Coast, though it should be noted there are several Virginia wines available by the bottle. They could save the West Coast-heavy list for RRG’s sibling restaurant, West Coast Provisions, set to open next spring in Short Pump.
For dessert, try this fairy tale ending of cereal milk panna cotta with brûléed bananas and blackberries canoodling cushy gelatin, raspberry dust and cardamom-scented cornflakes. There’s an East Coast legend that says you shouldn’t eat any sweets after seafood except for Atlantic Beach pie, else you may fall ill. Ignore it. At East Coast Provisions, don’t miss that panna cotta.
3.25 out of 4 forks
3411 W. Cary St., 353-3411
Hours: Monday to Thursday: 11:30 a.m. to midnight; Friday: 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Saturday: 10 a.m. to midnight; Sunday: 10 a.m. to midnight
Prices: $4 to $32