Richmond has a long, if unspoken, tradition of secreting some of its best restaurants in strip malls. As far back as the '70s, when La Petite France — Richmond's first authentic French restaurant — opened its doors in a back corner of Stratford Hills Shopping Center, locals who elevate dining to high sport or serious pursuit have known that top-tier dining often can be found wedged in between a chain drugstore and a nail salon.
Don't believe it? When Peter Chang made his 2012 Richmond debut, he opened shop a few doors down from Walmart. And in the years in between, institutions like Buckhead's, Mekong and Malabar have beckoned culinary aesthetes to parking lots shared with the likes of A.C. Moore and Macy's. So when we launched a search for good seafood, we weren't put off by Latitude Seafood Co.'s original location in a mega-strip shopping center.
Latitude is a place of incongruities. Televisions stuck on sports events clash with a menu where most entrees fall between $20 and $30. Although the restaurant clearly states that it specializes in seafood, the menu devotes more space to its specialty bar drinks than to food. Literally. Both food and drink options are as vast as the clientele, which spans a broad demographic, distinguished by costumes as varied as cowboy hats and cocktail dresses.
Like the list of handcrafted libations, the menu offers flavors for most any taste. You can customize your main: Chilean sea bass, yellowfin tuna, salmon, shrimp, mahi-mahi and corvina can each be paired with lemon butter, pineapple salsa, chimichurri or lime jalapeño, blending a half-dozen options into 24 choices costing from $17.90 to $27.90. House specialties are more creative. Dueling lobster tails pair a North Atlantic tail with one from the Caribbean, steamed and finished with lemon butter ($27.90). Having just spent time in the lobster land of the great Northeast, we felt eminently qualified to judge the duel. While the North Atlantic tail was plump and sweet, the one from the Caribbean looked more like a shrimp next to the big, juicy one. It was an interesting experiment, though, and both were nicely cooked and presented.
Crabcakes are crucial to any noteworthy seafood restaurant, and Latitude's make the cut. Not only is there enough lump meat to qualify, the flavors are balanced, allowing the delicate flavor of the crab to hold the spotlight. The attendant remoulade is tasty, but why disguise the subtle flavor of quality crab? At $22.90, the two amply-sized cakes are a value.
Latitude shines in starters, less so in sides. Instead of traditional crab Rangoon's harshly crunchy wonton skins with an inadequate smear of slightly crabby cream cheese inside, Latitude's lobster Rangoons ($10.90) are four puffy pillows of fluffy cream cheese with the tang of goat's cheese. Although the tartness overwhelmed any flavor of seafood, the thin, crispy wrappers make for a delectable app without spoiling appetites.
If you're really hungry, Hellfire shrimp ($11.90) will easily hold you until entree service. These are lightly battered — not breaded — shrimp tossed in just enough spicy aioli to maintain some crispiness. Plated by the dozen or so, they are more than enough to share.
Scratch sides accompany entrees, and while you certainly don't want to overlook them, choose carefully. My strategy is usually to order what I wouldn't make at home. Sweet tots, garlic whipped potatoes, french fries and steamed broccoli with citrus herb butter fall into the can-do category, so over the arc of two visits, we opted for honey-roasted Sriracha Brussels sprouts, creamed corn with bacon, cilantro-lime slaw, corn fritters and lobster mac and cheese ($3 upcharge). The Brussels sprouts were Southern-style (meaning overcooked) but flavorful, the creamed corn wasn't very creamy and could've used more bacon. And the corn fritters were bready and a little dry. Lobster mac and cheese is trendier than it is tasty with flavors so delicate they are barely discernible. Best to just enjoy the unadorned but generous topping of lobster claw and chopped meat before diving into the subtly cheesy mac.
Dessert is an unexpectedly delicious finish. Aptly named the Grand Finale (because afterwards, we were finished), a chocolate-chip-studded brownie topped with a baseball-sized scoop of vanilla ice cream rolled in coconut took both of us to clear the plate. There was enough to accommodate a third person but we didn't want to be that generous.
Although prices might seem a tad high for atmosphere akin to a sports bar, Latitude is much more than a glorified fish house. The food is consistent, as is the warmth and competency of the staff. And if you're in the camp that doesn't believe you have to dress up to enjoy an expensive meal, Latitude is a prime option.
Latitude Seafood Co.
15532 Westchester Commons Way
Sundays – Thursdays 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Fridays – Saturdays 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.