Like other artistic endeavors, modern architecture can't be understood by standing on the outside looking in: The point is to blend interiority and exteriority in a way that creates unity with the landscape and skyline. In this regard, the Boathouse at Rocketts Landing is a stunning achievement. A merger of historic red brick with steel and glass, the structure dissolves around you, leaving the impression that it hovers over the river stretching north to the city and south to Varina.
I'd recommend a visit even if the food weren't any good. Say, get a few drinks on the covered terrace after work and soak up the poetry of autumn leaves turning as golden as bourbon, the tree line reflecting from rocky shore to deeper water. That pervading sense of calm is difficult to find in the Richmond restaurant scene.
My only complaints regarding atmosphere come from a particular argument against television at the bar. The last thing I want to see when looking out the floor-to-ceiling windows is a reflection of ESPN talking heads superimposed over the cityscape in twilight. Likewise, rather than contributing to the inevitable din that comes with a packed, open dining room of this size, instrumental ambient music (or no music at all) would be preferable to the likes of Van Morrison murmuring in the background. But these are quibbles.
The breadth of offerings at various prices surprises me. Sushi, pizza and sandwiches offset pan-seared rockfish and generous cuts of prime beef. You and your date — because this is a date-worthy dining destination — can splurge on a $29 seafood tower as an appetizer and move straight into filet of beef with double-stuffed shrimp, also $29. On the other hand you could split a large salad and a wood-stone fired pizza, thin and crispy and quite good, for that same $29.
The food here is, in fact, good. Not inventive or tricky, but strong on the tried and true. This isn't going to excite your palate like a trip to a true nouvelle American joint —say, the recently opened Balliceaux — but you won't be disappointed. The steaks are spot-on temperature and generously cut. The flounder Charleston is nicely paired with fried oysters, a spicy aioli and three-pepper relish. The tuna tartare is seasoned in the Asian vein. The aforementioned seafood tower comes with a crab and lobster sushi roll, chilled spiced shrimp, fresh oysters, fire and ice mussels, which are the tastiest rendition I've had in town, and a healthy slab of house-smoked salmon with all the accoutrements. The table shares are well executed — the wild mushroom and asparagus risotto and creamed spinach are standouts. The Tillamook cheddar mashed potatoes are a bit passAc, and the burger seems to me a waste of good wagyu beef — it's difficult to justify a $14 burger no matter what you do to it.
The Boathouse offers catered events in its riverside pavilion, and this would seem to play to the strengths of a kitchen particularly geared toward high-volume production of standard high-end fare. I would expect it to reproduce surf and turf for 200 people with little to no variation in the execution, but then this isn't rocket science or particularly creative cuisine. This place is about place. And as a far as that goes in River City, it may not get any better than this. S
The Boathouse at Rocketts Landing ($$-$$$)
4708 E. Old Main St.
Dinner nightly: Bar opens at 4:30 p.m., dinner service at 5 p.m. Friday bar and dinner service from 3 p.m. Sunday brunch: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., dinner service all day
Call-ahead seating available
Wheelchair accessible via elevator