At first glance it could be just an ordinary neighborhood bar next to the H&H Exterminators and a stone's throw from the Birchmere. But the slightly stylized "RT's" in red neon letters above the front door and the fashionable forest green awning over the window suggest more than worn bar stools and stale beer.
In fact, this small, newly opened restaurant does much more than suggest. It delivers high quality food at fairly moderate prices, not an easy feat regardless of location. The interior, in dark green and tan with lots of oak, has a neat and clean new country look straight out of Better Homes and Gardens.
It is at once serious and charming, qualities that describe the kitchen and the service, too. The menu relies heavily on seafood -- fresh, sweet shellfish with a Cajun emphasis in the seasoning. For example, the appetizer of Acadian peppered shrimp is served in an oil-based marinade tasting of Tabasco, marjoram, rosemary and lemon pepper. After peeling the six whole shrimp, coat them with as much of the spicy sauce as you dare.
Another appetizer, oysters three way, is a beautiful presentation of three sauces: herbed vinaigrette, sherry cream and spicy Cajun, each in a ramekin holding two tender shucked oysters. The French garlic bread was put to good use sopping up the extra sauce.
The avocado crab Louis is another successful appetizer. Slices of perfectly ripe avocado, delicate lump crab and sinfully delicious sauce create an ambrosial treat in pink, green and white on a bed of lettuce.
The sauces do shine here. Take for example the entree of fresh redfish baked in parchment with shrimp and scallops piled on top, all doused with a rich, buttery cream sauce. A wonderfully seasoned sauce with shrimp and crab sparkles on the filet of trout. A similarly delicious combination of crab in a rich cream sauce gives depth to the Cajun veal Oscar. The filet Chesapeake is a decent cut of beef accented with lump crab bearnaise.
For a down-home, uncomplicated dish, try the two generous pieces of catfish perfectly fried to a delicate crunch. The chicken breast tarragon contained enough of the aromatic herb to justify its name, but such an ordinary choice should get a low priority given the array of other possibilities.
Go for the gusto and try the alligator stew in a cup or a bowl. The meat of the alligator is stringy, but flavorful, not unlike turtle in turtle soup. The bite is in the delicious peppery broth. The other soup, a velvety she crab, is an equally good choice.
The desserts conjure up visions of home. Indeed, we were told that most, if not all, of the desserts are made from tried and true family recipes. The chocolate buttermilk cake is nicely complimented by the light cloud of chantilly cream on top. The delicate chantilly cream appears again on top of the warm pecan pie with great tasting pecans. Rounding out the list of desserts, the dense, chocolate fudge cheesecake and the pumpkin cake with cream cheese icing make choosing difficult.
The service is unfailingly friendly even on a busy Friday night when the after-work crowd stands three deep at the bar and most of the tables are filled. The service slowed considerably under these conditions but the quality of the food was not compromised. Because we were not in a hurry, the waiting between courses was not a problem, but the excessive smoke in the air during a busy night did bother some in our party.
At present, the wine list is very short, limited to a few whites and reds, but perhaps it will be expanded. The lunch menu includes sandwiches, some of the dinner entrees plus several additional choices, such as Santa Fe grilled chicken and lump crab cakes.
It's a pleasure to find a kitchen with such a commitment to quality in both preparation and presentation. Even the extras, such as the variety of good fresh rolls on the table, the chunky, home-style coleslaw served with each entree, the zig-zag cut lemon halves used to garnish the seafood, show an attention to detail that is impressive. RT's is off to a winning start.