3922 Old Lee Hwy., Fairfax 591-3474 Hours: Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Monday through Saturday; dinner, 4:15 to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4:15 to 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday. Dinner prices: Soups and appetizers $1.50 to $8.99; entrees $6.94 to $12.97. Cards: MasterCard, Visa. Nonsmoking area available.
Standing as a symbol of changing tastes, this new seafood restaurant occupies the former site of a Ponderosa steakhouse in the Courthouse Plaza Shopping Center.
Gone are the western, beef-inspired trappings. The new interior resembles an East Coast fish market -- fresh oysters and clams are displayed on mounds of shaved ice, walls and floors are tiled in white, black, gray and mauve, and names of fish decorate the area. Although the ownership and menu are the same here as at the Eastport Raw Bar in Alexandria, the decor is unique to the Fairfax location.
Wading into the appetizers can be pleasant enough, although not without disappointments. The fried oysters, fresh and briny, were the stars of the fried appetizer combination, which included some fairly good calamari, pedestrian crab puffs and mushy shrimp.
Of two broiled preparations, I preferred the oysters LaFitte, topped with shallots and hollandaise, rather than the mediocre oysters Eastport heaped with bread crumbs.
The fried catfish fingers were a hit despite a touch too much salt in the spicy coating, and some dry chicken fingers were revived by a sweet mustard dip with horseradish. Beyond resuscitation, however, was the tired-looking steamer combination that came with a pudding-thick clam chowder.
Once past the appetizers, picking a good entree proved difficult. The grouper, for example, was badly overcooked and smothered in a dreadful, salty concoction of sesame seeds in a soy/brandy sauce. Because the service staff had enthusiastically recommended the dish, I wanted to believe that my first experience was an aberration. But on a second try, I found only a modest improvement -- the fish was not as badly overcooked, but the unpleasant sauce was overwhelming.
A not-so-special special, red rock Eastport, suffered not only from a topping of bland crab meat in an oily bernaise, but also had the ammonia taste of a fish well past its prime.
The best entree was a pasta special of linguini tossed with dull, but inoffensive, shredded crab meat and nicely sauteed zucchini and fresh tomatoes.
The broiled scallops were undistinguished in flavor and overdone.
A brief foray into the nonseafood items was not encouraging. While the hamburger we ordered wasn't bad, it came first as a cheeseburger. We alerted our server, who disappeared with the plate only to return moments later with the same burger flipped over to conceal the remnants of cheese still left clinging to the patty.
The arrival of the Cajun chicken, charred to a crisp and sliding around on the plate like the piece of charcoal it resembled, is a sight I will not soon forget. Miraculously, when the salty, carbonized coating was chipped away, there was some edible, albeit dry, chicken.
After several woeful entrees, the desserts finished on a slightly higher note. I enjoyed the moist chocolate chip cake and the flavorful grasshopper pie with mint chocolate cookie crust. The strawberry shortcake was just so-so, and the apple crisp had plenty of tasty, sliced apples but no "crisp," just a thin, paste-like flour crust.
The service staff is well-intentioned despite occasional miscues and delays.
Although some of the oyster dishes and appetizers are good, the kitchen is not yet able to execute competently the choices on the menu.