There are restaurants we're willing to drive several hours to get to for the prospect of fine food alone, and then there are restaurants we happen upon because of the charm of the immediate area, places such as Sea Sea & Company, overlooking the Occoquan River.
Location (a pleasant half-hour drive from Alexandria) and size -- not to mention some decent seafood -- have a lot to do with Sea Sea & Company's apparent success. It attracts the expected mix of boaters and weekend visitors, but it also appears to have substantial local appeal: On two recent visits the exposed upstairs dining area, which features a sandwich and burger menu, was closed for private parties.
Casual informality plays both "topside," as the upper deck is known, and downstairs, where white patio furniture, ceiling fans and greenery are offset by a large crew boat that spans the length of the dining area.
The food isn't as enchanting as the view on a nice day, but there are some well-prepared dishes to be found among the wide range of seafood offerings, which include lobster tail, king crab legs, steamed clams, swordfish and a variety of daily specials.
The menu begins with soups (one a flavorful, mild and vegetable laden crab, another a too thick, floury-tasting clam chowder) and a fairly standard selection of seafood hors d'oeuvres. There was nothing very enjoyable about the clams casino (broiled clams topped with gritty spinach and bacon) or the rather fishy tasting oysters on the half shell, but the crab puffs, deep-fried crab-meat balls, were quite good in their crispy golden batter.
For the most part, the kitchen does a nice job with fried entrees -- the shrimp tempura and flavorful, meaty crab cakes were relatively grease-free and golden, though I found the calamari a bit overcooked and chewy.
One of the better dishes sampled was the mariner's platter, which comes either fried or broiled. For $13.95 one gets a sampling of the menu -- fresh-tasting scallops, shrimp, clams, a crab cake and a piece of flounder. Save for the mushy flounder, the selection was quite good, with large plump shrimp and tender sweet scallops surrounding a tasty crab cake.
A broiled entree, shrimp stuffed with crab meat, was equally appealing, highlighting tender, buttery morsels of shrimp and a complementary stuffing.
Side dishes are given less consideration. A choice of soup or salad, potato (baked or french fried) and a vegetable accompany entrees. French fries were few and mushy on two visits, and the broccoli and green beans were limp and appeared to have come from a can.
There's a lot of enthusiasm and cheer among the youthful staff, but there's a tendency to be a bit careless at times, too. We found receipts under our garnishes, for example, and received two different checks when it came time to leave.
It would be helpful if the waiters were more familiar with what they were serving.
There seems to be confusion as to whether the fish selections are fresh or frozen and whether the desserts are homemade. (As for the latter, you'd be wiser to trade dessert for a leisurely stroll through the shops, galleries and confectionaries that make Occoquan a charming visit.)
While not necessarily worth a trip in itself, Sea Sea & Company can be a pleasant dining experience for those of us who find ourselves in the neighborhood.