First Look: Goin' Coastal

Southern seafood comes to Virginia-Highland

"Going postal" is slang for going out-of-control crazy and if you like seafood, you're likely to go crazy for Goin' Coastal (1021 Virginia Ave., 404-941-9117, www.goincoastalseafood.com), a new restaurant in Virginia-Highland. Its owners have operated a restaurant with the same name in the explosively growing city of Canton, north of Marietta, for two years.

Goin' Coastal prides itself on featuring catches from sources that practice sustainable fishing. That means it only offers seafood that is not threatened with extinction or whose fishing otherwise could damage the ecosystem.

Everything on the daily changing chalkboard menu is fresh, much of it bought directly from sustainable sources rather than wholesalers, according to Seth Hendricks, who owns the restaurant with Zach Kell. Hendricks was working the dining room during both my visits, going from table to table. His passion for what he's doing can produce a torrent of interesting words.

The approach here is uncomplicated, accenting natural flavors. Most of the fish listed on the chalkboard seems to be pan-seared and sometimes finished in the oven. The two we've sampled — halibut and swordfish — were filleted. The halibut (which I preferred) was perfectly flaky and moist while the swordfish (Wayne's preference) was meaty and drier. The important thing is that the flavors were almost startling.

We also sampled a couple of the composed dishes from the printed menu — bay scallops au gratin and lobster and peekytoe crab cakes. The scallops, served in a cast iron pan, were my least favorite dish. There was not a thing wrong with the cooking. The scallops were perfectly tender but their mild flavor was overwhelmed by the cornbread au gratin and bacon garnish. The crab cakes, on the other hand, were thick and dense with flavor. A sweet red-pepper sauce and corn relish accompanied the three cakes.

Other menu entrées include shrimp and grits, a low-country-style bouillabaisse, seared sea scallops and low-country shrimp with tomatoes (but no okra!). And, yes, you can get fried catfish, shrimp or scallops. And there is fried chicken and a steak for the fish-phobic.

The hit on the starters list is oysters on the half shell. They were Apalachicolas both evenings we visited. You get your choice of ordering them raw or lightly baked in three different styles. They can be mixed. Besides raw, we ordered six done "Rockefeller"-style. Except for the spinach, which itself is controversial to some, these didn't have a whole lot in common with classic oysters Rockefeller, but the added Parmesan and bacon did create a tasty concoction. We also tried them bathed in Parmesan butter with roasted garlic and tarragon. You get more direct oyster flavor with the latter.

We also tried the crab-and-shrimp dip. Hendricks told us that a bit of lobster is also included in the cream cheese base. I usually don't like seafood dips; they're generally short on seafood and long on overseasoned cream cheese. That's not the case here. I'd order it before I went for the fried pickles, but the oysters would be my first choice. I was disappointed not to be able to taste the sold-out she-crab soup. I'll be curious to find out if it's really made with crab roe.

The restaurant's Southern roots are most on display in side dishes, like strangely yummy, gooey cornbread pudding spiked with jalapeños. Collards were surprisingly underseasoned but not overcooked liked your mother's. Then again, thick slices of yellow squash — steamed and topped with caramelized onions — were just like my mother's. Best of all was a special of creamed corn dotted with bacon. It was staggeringly rich and not so sweet that it required the customary heap of black pepper.

We've tried two desserts. The pecan pie, made by one of the owner's mother, was so good I ordered it twice. Besides the usual filling, the pie has a crust that actually holds up and tastes good. A key lime tart was also delicious, although I've lately grown tired of seeing these on so many menus in town.

Problems? Certainly not the service. I rate April and Eve Co-Servers of the Week. One problem was slightly inadequate air conditioning, probably because the restaurant has opened up the kitchen. The staff kept apologizing for it, long after we failed to even notice it. As Hendricks said, it's probably worse for the staff because they're moving around. It may be improved by the time you read this. The biggest problem at the restaurant is the acoustics. Hendricks said they have already begun plans to solve that problem, too.

Oddities? Price. Well, it's an oddity we like. We spent about $90 (no alcohol) our first visit on a Thursday. We ate just as much, if not more, the following Sunday and paid $34. The reason is that the restaurant offers a full-course "Sunday supper" for $17. Choices are more limited but it's an incredible bargain.

I remember when the only place you could get good seafood in our city was at Chinese restaurants. There have always been a few places specializing in fried catfish and hushpuppies, and the Buckhead Life people made a huge change in the city when they opened the Fish Market. But Goin' Coastal is a classy Southern seafood shack with a conscience and personality. Y'all go.

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