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The Boathouse serves up stunning views of River City Beth Furgurson photos
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cherry-glazed duck breast
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1/2-pound crab cake laced with Pommery mustard
Restaurateur Kevin Healy's affinity for the water's edge has translated into a pair of eateries with attractive aquatic surroundings: 22-year-old Swift Creek Reservoir (and Brandermill) mainstay The Boathouse at Sunday Park and its more recently unveiled sister at Rocketts Landing.
The latter is perched on the James River's scenic north shore in a refurbished power plant. Once a site used to generate electricity for Richmond's trolley-car fleet, this just-east-of-the-city spot now serves as a popular destination for higher-end food and beverages and fine river and city-skyline views. And while the food doesn't always impress as much as the environs and vistas, visitors are still likely to leave happy.
Though somewhat loud and bustling at times, Rocketts Landing's elevated space is inviting and terrific. Complete openness and floor-to-ceiling glass ensure easy viewing of the dining area and scenery beyond. Soft light emanating from the open fireplace, flaming pizza oven and hip, wavy pendant lighting collectively casts a mellow glow over the spacious dining area.
The menu makes good use of local ingredients. Seafood offerings are fresh and well prepared. Briny Piankatank River-grown Chapel Creek Oysters — served on the half-shell — are a fine way to kick things off. Lovers of generous, sweet-crabmeat portions, meanwhile, will enjoy the half-pound crab cake laced with Pommery mustard-based dressing and little else.
But tops among the fruits de mer has to be the Platter O' Toads starter. While perhaps a bit strange-sounding to the unacquainted, these plump, sweet, "sugar toad" blowfish morsels and their thin, crispy coatings will win over even the greatest of skeptics.
Beef dishes, too, receive fine treatment. Well seared and adeptly cooked to temp, the smoked-sea-salt-accented 12-ounce strip steak is a winner. And so deliciously juicy is the Kobe burger (topped with cheddar and crispy bacon) that its challah bun was nearly saturated with savory juices by the last bite. Thankfully, the mealy, bland tomato slices served alongside were easy enough to avoid, though really, they should never have seen the plate in the first place.
Kids opting either for the crispy, white-meat chicken tenders (served with a sweet honey-mustard dip) or buttered noodles — as did mine — will enjoy them both.
Whether it's Belgian waffles or a mess of eggs you seek for Sunday brunch, The Boathouse has you pretty well covered. While the spinach strata and its rather spongy texture didn't particularly impress, much more praise-worthy was the house-smoked salmon Benedict. French-pressed coffee and freshly squeezed juices hit the spot and are nice touches.
Pizza gets high billing here but fails to really wow. The luster of creative topping combinations such as brie and grilled asparagus is ultimately lost due to a plain, uninteresting crust. Such was the case with a salami-and-kalamata-olive pie sampled just before this topping combo was taken off the menu. Here's hoping that the newer pie variations will sport more yeasty, crusty goodness.
Similarly, matters could improve regarding potato sides and desserts. Both the bell-pepper-studded home fries (served at brunch) and house-cut French fries are limp, uni-textural and under-seasoned. A simple crisping of their exteriors and a few extra shakes of salt would help perk up these ho-hum starches.
The four-berry cobbler with ice cream would have greatly improved with a better balance of sugar-cookie crust to fruit. After only a few bites, the crispy crust was gone, leaving little more than a deep dish of unexciting warm fruit.
The Boathouse at Rocketts Landing has much going for it, including a wonderfully friendly staff. Further menu improvements could elevate the place to even greater heights. A revised, somewhat pared-down menu debuted in March, and Healy has said another update is planned. Renowned chef Jimmy Sneed, former owner of the Frog and the Redneck in Shockoe Slip — and currently a partner in Carena's Jamaican Grille — recently came on board as a consultant. I'd recommend staying tuned.
4708 E. Old Main St., 622-2628
Prices: Appetizers and salads $8 to $29. Pizzas $12. Entrées $14 to $32. Brunch $7.75 to $12.95. Desserts $6.
Hours: Dinner from 5 p.m. (3 p.m. on Friday) until 10 p.m. (11 p.m. Friday and Saturday); Sunday brunch, 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.