Since returning to the banks of the Maumee River in December, 1999, Real Seafood Co. by the Docks has shown that it deserves a place on most everyone's fine-dining list.
Fine dining, indeed. Perhaps the kitchen must follow recipes developed by central management, leaving little leeway for an individual chef's brilliant innovations, but there have been brilliant contributions somewhere back in the origins of the Real Seafood's recipe file. Starting with the best ingredients and preparing dishes - especially delicate seafood - with scrupulous care, this kitchen pampers the guest.
At first a dinners-only restaurant, Real Seafood added a lunch service and menu not long ago. Besides a selection of “fresh catch” from lakes and seas - among them Lake Erie pickerel and perch, as well as grilled salmon, swordfish, scrod, and tuna - there are some other lunch entrees. Fettucine with rock shrimp and green olives seemed attractively different, but I settled on a simple fillet of Lake Superior whitefish, nicely broiled and perky with a squeeze of lemon.
Stuffing is an art that this kitchen does very well, matching textures and flavors in a search for balance. Baked crabmeat-stuffed flounder is on the regular menu, as is a “flounder florentine”: sole - not the Dover sort but a young member of the flounder family - stuffed with spinach, a boldly imaginative attraction. What I immediately decided on from the week's specials on the menu overlap, however, was another slight but simply delicious variant: a plump fillet of salmon, stuffed with a medley of crabmeat, baby shrimp, and bits of mushroom and leek. It was broiled and served with a tangy lemon-chive butter sauce.
The cole slaw that comes with dinner entrees is washed in a piquant vinaigrette; no complaint there. With my salmon, the vegetable complement was a generous handful of steamed green beans, tender julienne-sliced carrots, and a bite or two of zucchini.
That entree followed a great appetizer, also picked impulsively from the week's specials: rock shrimp and hearts of artichoke baked in a ramekin and seasoned with both spicy fresh herbs and a scattering of feta cheese. Strange as it sounds, that combination of flavors was a great success.
A small section of the menu - three entrees only - is dedicated to “top grade meats”: a New York sirloin steak, a filet mignon, and a breast of chicken. On another visit, purely in the interest of sampling the menu broadly, I asked for a medium-rare filet mignon. A fine piece of beef, tender and cooked just exactly medium rare, was served with a certain note of concern: The server reappeared tableside twice, and the dining room manager once, to be assured that the steak was as ordered.
There's a dessert to die for if you're a chocoholic: chocolate pate, a thin slice of dark chocolate with a soft texture, served under a scattering of pistachios as an island in a pond of creme anglaise.
A couple of minor problems: First, the dining room, with its straight and swooping rows of booths and tables, fish themes on the walls, and variety of lights - I counted eight different fixtures - almost amounts to what a psychologist might call sensory dissonance. Happily, the food delights and absorbs the attention before one is overly bemused.
Second, server performance is uneven, and one wonders whether the dining room is insufficiently staffed. I would rate the three servers who tended to my three last visits as A-plus, B, and C-minus. Given that a meal at Real Seafood is expensive - add the prices of an average appetizer, entree, and one drink, factor in tax and a modest (15 percent) tip, and you're looking at nearly $41 - it remains true that the food, but not just the food, makes for a delightful dining experience.
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