Looking down from the highway as it goes over the Occoquan River, you can see the picturesque Pier 5 restaurant and Occoquan Harbor Marina. The setting for the six-month-old establishment is attractive, even though the sprawling parking lot and restaurant were carved out of a less-than-scenic gravel yard that is still in operation.
In the evening, however, the cement trucks and barges are at rest and you can sit alfresco on the patio or inside looking out the bay window and enjoy the beautiful view of the tree-lined river bank, the rippling water and the boats bobbing in the marina.
The food on the heavily seafood menu is prepared simply by broiling, frying or grilling. Unfortunately, even at this modest level of culinary skill there is no guarantee of success.
One success, the whole steamed lobster, is also a good deal as a special on Monday nights, when the one-pounder goes for $9.95 (regularly $14.95). Mine had a sweet, briny flavor, and although the tail meat was slightly stringy, it was not bad.
But there are some problems with other items on the menu, beginning with the appetizers. The Alaskan crab cocktail was tasteless. The oysters Rockefeller, under a heavy blanket of spinach, could have qualified for a raw bar -- they were barely warmed.
One of only two nonshellfish appetizers, the fresh fruit cocktail, was unattractive and overpriced. The fruit mixture, served in a stemmed shrimp cocktail dish for $3.75, was mostly green grapes, with some blueberries, diced cantaloupe and a few token wedges of honeydew and strawberries.
A choice of soup or salad comes with each entree, but two of the possibilities were disappointing. The clam chowder broth was thin and contained little more than a few chunks of potato. The cream of crab was overthickened and could have passed for cream of anything.
The meaty turtle soup at least had some flavor even without the optional sherry, served in a small pitcher on the side.
Then there is a pleasant surprise or two, such as a delicious split pea soup offered one evening. This version was just right -- not too salty and with big, flavorful chunks of ham.
For a safe bet, try the house salad. We enjoyed it with a lightly sweet Georgia peanut dressing.
Success is fleeting, however. A simply prepared entree, the grilled tuna, was overcooked. Also grilled, a New York strip steak tasted more of charring than of beef.
The assortment of fried seafood -- flounder, shrimp and oysters -- in the Chesapeake platter could have used some seasoning in the breading. Even the crab cake was bland.
The shrimp creole, with an innocuous, sweet tomato sauce on something resembling Minute Rice, had little to recommend it.
The various vegetables served with the entrees -- broccoli, cauliflower and asparagus -- were all nicely cooked, but on one occasion the baked potatoes were barely warm. On our visits, the sliced ration of French bread was always cold at the center, although one evening a mallard duck, scavenging on the patio, ate the bread without complaint.
The service staff was friendly but careless, leaving half-eaten potatoes and condiment dishes on the table through dessert.
The desserts are made elsewhere, and they are quite good. From an assortment of cakes and pastries such as carrot cake and cheese cake, I would recommend the light and rich Ultimate Chocolate Cake or the pecan pie with chocolate swirls on top called a turtle tart. Almost as good was the nutty, but very sweet, Queen's mother's cake. There is also a fruit and cheese plate and three flavors of Haagen-Dazs ice cream.
Turning part of a gravel yard into an attractive seafood restaurant showed some inspiration and creativity, but these qualities are not yet evident in the kitchen. With such a pretty location, I would be willing to settle for simple competence and consistency. After six months, even these qualities are in short supply.