Old and new come together at The Wharf’s latest restaurant, Rappahannock Oyster Bar. While The Wharf has become known for its modernity, the owners of Rappahannock Oyster Company moved in to the historic oyster shucking shed, maintaining and expanding upon a century-old structure. The result is a blend of modern and longstanding that melts together just as perfectly as the blue crab, corn and pickled jalapenos in their crab dip.
The inside dining area is small and comfortable, with fewer than 30 seats around a bar and shucking station. The 1,300 pound ice machine keeps the raw bar cold, and serves as part of the entertainment behind the bar. On the menu, the raw bar is indeed the main attraction. The oysters and clams are all local, which is part of the Rappahannock Oyster Company’s tradition of serving the Chesapeake Bay’s native shellfish, since 1899. No Kumamotos here, but the Olde Salt oysters from Chincoteague, VA make you ask: why would I want anything else?
The Cobia Crudo blends its namesake fish with just the right combination of onion, red bell pepper and a few strands of seaweed. There is a caviar service on the menu, if you’re willing to shell out for it, and a variety of entrees, almost all of which feature shellfish, including peel and eat shrimp, a reputed crab cake, whole fish, and the traditional fry basket options. The combination fry basket gives you a generous portion of fried shrimp, oysters and crab croquette. The seasoned breading is a little strong for the shrimp and oysters, but the croquette was mildly spiced, revealing the taste of fresh crab. Exceptions from the fish exist, however, with a hearty burger, lamb, and salads and slaw. But given the choice, I would eat the Barcat New England-style Oyster Chowder every evening before bed, at least until my doctor advised against it. It’s deliciously creamy, and the bits of Benton’s Bacon are brilliant.
Once the weather gets nice, Rappahannock will open up its floor-to-ceiling glass doors to a wrap-around patio, exponentially increasing the seating and offering visitors a richer experience of The Wharf, the Channel and the adjacent Fish Market. The views from the inside are nearly 360 degrees; from the outside they’ll expand even more.
Don’t ignore the house cocktails, and carrying on the local theme, the beers and cider on tap are all from the region.
The list of shortcomings is short. The price point will run $20-$30 per entree, and more if you indulge in the drinks, oysters or other appetizer options. An inexpensive kids menu would invite more families, especially when the weather gets warm and our Southwest families, as well as visitors to the neighborhood, will be spending their weekends around The Wharf. That said, the smooth jazz fits the comfortable setting, and the staff is attentive. An old company, in an old building, has done it right with the newest spot on The Wharf.
By Mike Goodman