Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Rivers Inn

The first time I tried to visit the River’s Inn Restaurant in Gloucester County was a puzzling experience. I’d called at 3 p.m. to reconfirm, then headed out at 5 p.m. with my husband, Dave, into the driving rain and across the river.

I couldn’t have been more surprised to pull into an empty parking lot, and a sign that read “closed due to inclement weather.”

We fared better a couple of night’s later. “Table for two?” the hostess asked, leading us to a lovely, mahogany-embossed booth. The dining room was stately in wood and subdued red tones, and at this early hour, surprisingly full. The hostess returned in her role as our waitress, and began by placing copies of the night’s specials in front of us. I love not having to ask the waitress to repeat the specials and prices over and again, so this was a most welcome gesture.

We placed our orders, then relaxed into the voluminous, cushy seats. Nautical paintings brightened up the dining room, while the small bar held a series of black-and-white photographs. Each table offered its own spray of color with small vases of blooming fresh flowers.

Our starter was the sampler platter ($10), featuring fried calamari, escargot, and bacon-wrapped shrimp. The escargot came in two separate, tiny little cups, each brimming with butter, garlic, and two chubby little snails. Two tiny trimmed rounds of toast were judiciously placed atop, inviting two perfectly rich bites. The pale rings of calamari were soft, without any real flavor, sans a dip in the ranch dressing. On the other hand, three bacon-wrapped shrimp had been skewered and cooked just right, with a hint of smoke hovering at the background of each meaty bite.

The entrees came with a salad, a simple affair of field greens, carrots and dried cranberries. The balsamic house dressing was applied in just the right amount, resulting in a most enjoyable basic salad.

Dave knew what he was ordering as soon as he saw the menu: slow-braised short ribs of beef ($20). A massive mound of short ribs came piled high on succulent bacon-mashed potatoes, surrounded by a wealth of meaty juices. The beef was fork-tender and mouthwateringly good. Unsurprisingly, the first bite proved to hold each of those three elements in tantalizing harmony, although it took me several to make sure.

The wine, a 2005 “R. Stuart” Big Fire Pinot Noir ($39), was a bodacious balance of fruits tart and sweet, and made for an excellent partner with the short ribs. It also went surprisingly well with my bouillabaisse ($22).

The plating was spectacular and picture-perfect. Linguine provided the base for a rosy-hued broth, dotted with tomatoes and green onions, filled with all manner of seafood: shrimp, clams, scallops, mussels and salmon. A long slice of baguette beckoned me to dip, and so in I went.

The first spoonful of broth seemed a bit off, confirmed when I began tasting the individual components: all held an overtly fishy taste. Beautiful as it was, I couldn’t find solace from the burgeoning fishiness. From the shrimp to the scallops to the clams, it was just too much, and I finally threw in the towel.

Coconut cream tart ($4.50) was ordered to go, although it didn’t escape from the table before we scooped out a bite. The lush, vibrant custard fairly sang with an exuberant coconut concordance in its pastry shell. Drizzles of chocolate swept across the top, while whipped cream and a stylized chocolate shard rounded out the presentation.

The service was as attentive as the busy dining room would allow, and the experience was fun and lively. However, of all things that a seafood restaurant should get right, it’s the seafood. I went in knowing they’d been closed for two days prior, hoping to get first-of-the-week fresh seafood. However, something seemed fishy.

Aside from this misstep, it was an enjoyable, if somewhat pricey, meal out on the docks. I look forward to a return visit when the adjoining crab deck reopens for seasonal afternoons in gorgeous natural surroundings.

River's Inn Restaurant and Crab Deck

8109 Yacht Haven Road, Gloucester Point

Phone: 804-642-9942 fax: 804-642-9945
Web site:

Specialties: fresh regional seafood

Price range: (dinner) starters: $4-$10; lighter fare: $14-$17; entrees: $18-$28; dessert: $4-$5

Hours: Tuesday-Saturday: lunch 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner 5:30 p.m.-9 p.m.; bar opens at 5 p.m.; Sundays: dinner 4 p.m.-8 p.m.; closed Mondays; hours may change seasonally

Alcohol: beer, wine, full bar

Smoking: no

Vegetarian: vegetarian requests are gladly accommodated

Wheelchair accessible: yes

Payment: cash, credit cards, checks

Noise level: conversational-noisy

Atmosphere: romantic, casual, waterside

Additional Information: monthly wine dinners, private parties, outside crab deck (seasonal), Sunday brunch (seasonal), weekly specials

River's Inn Restaurant and Crab Deck

Food : 3 1/2
Atmosphere: 4
Service: 3 1/2
(out of five stars)


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