Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Sully's Steak and Seafood

I know. I'm cheating. Sully's isn't in downtown Fredericksburg at all. It's in Spotsylvania. I took my daughter there for dinner tonight to celebrate Valentine's Day. And now, I feel like I ate a baby.

I should mention that Sully's has quickly become a favorite spot of mine. When the kids are with their dad and I don't feel like driving all the way downtown, I inevitably end up there. They have a small bar where I can sit and eat by myself, and the waitstaff is always friendly and funny. I enjoy talking to them during my dinner, and they have some great, inexpensive house wines. So, before I even begin, you should know that I'm biased. I already love this place.

We arrived around 5:15 on Valentine's night, with no reservations. The parking lot was nearly full, but we found a spot right away. After waiting a couple minutes inside, Mike (the owner) came to greet us at the door, explained the specials and then sat us in a nice quiet booth in the corner. Our server brought us a loaf of warm bread served with cinnamon butter and we snacked on that while we looked through the menu. Em wanted calimari as an appetizer, I ordered a bowl of cream of crab soup and a glass of Copperidge Merlot.

The calimari was exactly as it should be: thinly sliced, crispy, the coating flavorful. The marinara sauce is made in house, I believe. My crab soup was delicious, creamy and filled with lump crab meat.

For dinner, Em chose the firecracker shrimp, a baked potato and a dinner salad. I ordered the special... a New York strip steak topped with crab imperial, a baked potato and a caesar salad. And another Merlot. What? I was thirsty. The dinner salad was substantial, with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, cheese and croutons. My caesar salad was a good size as well, and the dressing was peppery and tasty. By the time our meals arrived, we were pretty full. No one ever accused either of us of being quitters though... so knife and fork in hand, we carried on. My steak was huge. Thankfully, the crab imperial that covered it was a thin layer, and I scraped it off after determining that I am a steak purist... I love crab imperial, and I love steak. Separated. I'd ordered the steak medium rare and it was cooked perfectly. Charred grill marks on the outside, cool to warm bright pink center, great seasoning, excellent flavor. The crab imperial was super creamy and extremely rich, so I ate a few bites with a piece of bread. Emily's firecracker shrimp was out of control. It was easily 1lb of shelled and deveined shrimp that was breaded, fried, and then tossed in a mildly spicy sauce.  I was able to get about four bites of steak in before my stomach realized we were full. Em gave up after about three shrimp. Stuffed. Oh, and while it's difficult to screw up a baked potato, I feel the need to mention that they were awesome too.

Earlier in the evening, we had heard another table order a chocolate peanut butter pie, and prior to consuming the steak baby, it sounded like a grand idea. After we'd boxed up all of our uneaten food though, we decided that dessert would be best saved for another time.

Should you go? YES! They have a huge selection of seafood, steak, chicken, ribs... you name it. Bring along a non-seafood lover and they'll find something on the menu. Sully's does an awesome and affordable lunch as well. The servers have always been very friendly and attentive, the food has always been fresh and good, the prices are reasonable, especially for the amount of food they trot out of the kitchen. The total of our check was $63.29, plus a $14 tip. Because I like them, that's why. Go for lunch or dinner, soon. They'll treat you right. And tell Mike and Brenda I said hi. :)

The details:
Sully's Steak and Seafood
5442 Southpoint Plz Way

Monday, February 14, 2011

Ristorante Renato

Friday, February 11th

I was in the mood for some really great Italian food. I wish I could report that it was great. I even wish I could say it was good. I can say that the Cono Sur Pinot Noir was good, and the unnamed cabernet was enjoyable enough, but let me start at the beginnning...

I was joined by friends, so once again, the whole "Party of One" thing is a big fat lie. But, I am very happy that I had witnesses to this epic culinary tragedy. It would have been far too depressing to have gone through alone.

We came two by two...Our reservations were for 7:30 but we were a few minutes late. I was afraid that Ristorante Renato wouldn't hold our reservations, but when we arrived, I was pleased to find that our friends had secured the table. We settled in at a very small, crowded booth, enjoyed some wine and conversation, we relaxed and I was looking forward to dinner. We were served a basket of bread and B was on it like he'd forgotten to eat all day long. Joy and bliss...there was real butter. That's nearly the only prop I'll give this place. The waiter came and I realized that I apparently have an addiction to calimari, so I ordered that. It was fresh and Renato's clearly breaded it there, but served it in thick rings. This is purely personal opinion, but I much prefer thinner, crispy calimari rings, as they seem to be more tender and less chewy than thicker pieces. Unlike La Petite Auberge, Renatos served the spidery tentacles. Sadly, they looked nice and crispy, but reminded me of deep fried baby tarantulas... so I just couldn't bring myself to eat them. The side of marinara sauce was unmemorable, and not flavorful enough to even add any taste to the calimari.

Our salads arrived a short time later. Now, when I say salads, what I MEAN to say is that we were served a few pieces of lettuce, a slice of tomato and some salad dressing. It wasn't a salad so much as a burger topping. No onion, no cucumber, no shredded carrots... not even a crouton. Can you toss me a crouton? B just ate all the bread. Work with me, people.

Dear Renatos: Lettuce and tomato a salad does not make. Work on that, please.

Now, a really good marsala sauce can perform miracles. It can make a bad day better, it can transform a boring piece of chicken or veal into a succulent, delicious, satisfying meal, and if prepared properly, it can even render me speechless for a short period of time. I'm telling you...Miracles. Thing is, marsala sauce isn't that difficult. A little butter, some good Marsala wine, a little cream. Done right, its the stuff dreams are made of. At Renatos? Not so much. The chicken was pounded thin, but the sauce was lacking. It was very sweet, and a little too thick as if it had been prepared and left sitting on a counter for a bit before it was brought to our table. I had a side of string beans, which were all right. Yes, I ate the chicken and whined a little with each bite, but mostly because I know I can do a much better marsala sauce at home. K ordered veal scaloppine. In case some of you aren't familiar with this dish, here's the wikipedia definition:  "(a small scallop, i.e. a thinly sliced cut of meat) Scallopine is an Italian dish consisting of thinly sliced meat (most often veal, although chicken may also be used) that is dredged in wheat flour, sautéed, then heated and served with a tomato-, or wine-sauce...."  Thinly sliced. Sauteed. Yum. Scaloppine is famous for being tender, thin and light. Well... my dining partner needed a steak knife. On the other side of the table, A ordered the server-recommended special, which was rockfish served with shrimp and scallops in some kind of sauce. We were all tempted by that option, but pretty thankful only one plate of it was delivered. It was a small portion of rockfish, served with two medium shrimp and two scallops. I tried a scallop... it was tender, but very fishy tasting. B ordered a trusty Italian standby: chicken parmesan. Again, it was a small portion, heavily sauced and although I didn't taste the sauce myself, was told it was reminescent of Prego. The presentation of all dishes (aside from the lack-luster salads) was pleasant although the portions were small, and we all agreed that the food was mediocre at best.

Our server was adequate. He was nice enough and seemed very busy, but we weren't in a rush, so it was ok. There was a table next to us that was louder and more obnoxious than we were, too. 

Overall, the evening was great because of the company. We laughed, caught up, drank wine and kvetched about my choice of restaurants. Although the creme caramel tempted me a little, we decided to pass on dessert.

Ok, so the bottom line: Should you go? No. I'm sorry. The total bill for our table of four was $145 and some change, which included four entrees, one order of calimari and six or seven glasses of wine. Or eight. I don't recall, really. Maybe it's just me, but when I think of Italian food, I think of fresh, ripe tomatoes, spicy garlic aromas filling the air, thick, fragrant sauces that are alive with flavor, crusty breads, perfect al dente pastas, and the cheese... oooooh the cheese. I'm sorry to say that we didn't get any of that at Ristorante Renato. What we had was bland, average and very disappointing.

That said, this evening was just more proof to me that it's not the little things (like overpriced, less than delicious food) that matter. It's the people you bring to the party that make all the difference. So, at the risk of sounding like a dollar store Valentine's card, on this Valentine's Day, remember to live your life to its fullest, laugh at all the things that don't matter, and love with all you have. To those who suffered through this experience with me, thank you so much for being in my life and joining me for dinner. I love y'all.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Crabby Oyster

I'd heard great things. Great. Granted, the great things I heard were paid radio advertisements... so what are they going to say "come here! It sucks!"? Nope.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The Crabby Oyster is located in King George, Virginia about 30 miles from Fredericksburg. I know, it's a little out of my restaurant zone, but I ate there and felt the need to share. Here goes:

King George happens to be right smack at the mid-point of my house and where a friend of mine lives. We decided to have lunch, so that location just made sense. Now for those of you who have never made it to the tourist mecca that is King George, Virginia, let me just tell you: There's Dahlgren Naval Surface Warfare Center (and one would presume this would bring a plethora of sailors and eye candy, but one would be presuming incorrectly), a Burger King, a Wawa gas station, a Food Lion and the Crabby Oyster. And I think some Chinese place. At any rate, since there were no hot sailors around, and since Keith isn't really INTO hot sailors, we opted for the seafood.

The atmosphere is very casual, kinda cute... kinda cafeteria-y. They had some interesting t-shirts for sale, and the salad bar was large. The booths were comfortable and the bathrooms were clean.

We weren't drinking anything exciting, just tea and coffee. Refills were a little hard to come by.

Keith ordered oyster stew and a clam strip basket. I chose the fried scallops basket. We were one of two or three tables in the restaurant, and the food came quickly. The oyster stew was runny, and there was something not quite right about it. I think it was the 1/4 inch layer of what appeared to be butter or margarine or motor oil that covered it. One quarter of an inch. Hand to God. Keith fished through the oil slick and pulled a couple oysters out, and then pushed the bowl away. I didn't ask for a bite. About this time, our entrees arrived. Things were looking up... but I was still pretty grossed out by the exxon stew. When the server brought our entrees, she also had in her hand a cup of oyster stew for the table behind us. No butter. It looked like normal creamy tasty oyster stew. Curious. The baskets we'd ordered were served with a generous portion of french fries and a tiny to-go ramekin containing coleslaw. The scallops were tasty. The clams were a little overcooked.

Ok, so we stayed there for three hours. Clearly I've developed a habit of sitting at a restaurant for an exhorbitant amount of time... this time I wasn't there for the food or the wine list. I was there for the conversation. In this case, it worked out. It was quiet, we were able to talk without much interruption. That part was good. The food? eh.

So, the usual questions... will I go back? Probably not. I have no doubt that The Crabby Oyster occasionally turns out some pretty decent seafood... but based on the oyster stew alone, ain't no way this cracker is going back. The baskets were passable, but I can't believe the waitress had the balls to trot that mess out to a table. I refuse to serve something to a table that I wouldn't eat myself and there's no way I would have expected someone to either eat or pay for oyster stew with sludge. I was going to say something but I didn't want Keith to think I was a persnickety bossy beotch. (even though I am...) And he's just too nice.

Final cost for lunch was just over $34, and we left a $6 tip. As I said, we're nice.

Should you go? Eh... that's entirely up to you. If you're in town and feeling brave, go for it. As I said, they probably do ok sometimes. Try something broiled though... or maybe a dinner. If you really want seafood, Burger King's fish sandwich isn't half bad...