The Conrad's seafood empire is expanding, and it's taken restaurant form.
Conrad's Seafood Restaurant is the newest member of the Conrad's seafood family of businesses, which includes a popular seafood store in Parkville, a crab deck at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen and a seasonal store in Jacksonville.
The Perry Hall restaurant opened in late January, focusing on what Conrad's is known for: high-quality seafood and crabs. There's no doubt that Conrad's ingredients are top-notch and conceptually, the menu is impressive. A month after opening, though, the kitchen was still working out some major kinks.
Scene & Decor Located in the former home of Surf City restaurant, Conrad's space is newly renovated and feels fresh — nautical with a modern edge. The restaurant is large, with four seating areas, all of which were booked when we arrived, without a reservation, just before 7 o'clock on a recent Friday night.
The team at the hostess stand told us to expect a wait of about 45 minutes and they got the number right. We eventually found ourselves in an oversized booth — the benches were just a little too far from the table — in a lively room filled with families, couples and groups of friends.
Appetizers As soon as we sat down, our waitress presented us with a basket of popcorn dusted with Conrad's seafood seasoning. A nice touch, and we couldn't keep our hands off the popcorn.
Conrad's menu is, of course, dominated by seafood dishes, like the blackened rockfish appetizer ($12), a piece of Cajun spice-crusted rockfish served over tomatillo salsa with avocado slices, chips and cilantro cream on the side. Though the rockfish was a tiny bit overcooked, the combination of flavors and textures was appealing and sophisticated. We were off to a good start.
Entrees Unfortunately, our entrees were uneven. Both had pros — but they also had cons, some of which were significant.
A bowl of crab capellini in rose sauce ($21) was tasty but imperfect. The crab was delicate and sweet and the rose sauce, garnished with roasted tomatoes, was flavorful but less creamy than expected.
The real problem, though, was the pasta. There was just too much of it and though it was cooked properly, it wasn't tossed completely with the sauce, leaving a big glob of sticky, plain pasta at the bottom of the bowl.
The size of the swordfish entree ($21) wowed us; the enormous hunk of fish was more than two inches thick. Topped with arugula and olive tapenade, it made an impression. The first several bites were wonderful, too — moist and cooked just right. The fish was a touch under seasoned but the brininess of the tapenade balanced the flavor.
Halfway through, we realized the plate was lacking one promised component: a redskin potato hash. And we did miss the heft potatoes would have provided.
On the heels of that revelation, we discovered a bigger problem. The rest of the fish was completely raw in the center, rendering it inedible.
Service Though the staff at Conrad's are unfailingly friendly and well-intentioned, they are also young and a bit unpolished.
When we told our waitress there was a problem with the swordfish, she seemed flustered and unsure about exactly how to proceed (ultimately the kitchen recooked the fish).
At the end of the meal, she told us she'd taken our dessert off the bill, a gesture we appreciated. But someone more experienced might have handled the matter more smoothly — and sent a manager to the table to check in.
Dessert Conrad's desserts, on display in a case, are all lovely. Our choice, a small lemon meringue pie, was sweet, tart and very, very pretty.
Baked in house by Theresa Zaragoza (the sister of general manager Michael Lancelotta and executive chef Joseph Lancelotta), it was a classic and tasty rendition of the dessert.
Drinks Conrad's wine and drinks lists are a good ones — not too long, and they're well-suited for the seafood-heavy menu. We started with a Baybilly ($10), a fun bourbon, honey and herb concoction that packed a punch in the first sip but mellowed as we drained the glass.
From the drinks to the entrees to the decor, Conrad's Seafood Restaurant is thoughtfully conceived. If the staff works through the glitches — both in the kitchen and on the floor — it could even be great.
Conrad's Seafood Restaurant
Back story: The Conrad family, owners of Conrad's Crabs in Parkville, as well as locations in Jacksonville and at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, partnered with general manager Michael Lancelotta and executive chef Joseph Lancelotta to open Conrad's Seafood Restaurant in late January. The Perry Hall restaurant plays to the Conrads' strengths, with a focus on fresh, creative seafood preparations.
Parking: Small lot on side plus complimentary valet
Signature dish: The blackened rockfish appetizer, a small piece of spice-crusted fish served with bright tomatillo salsa, slices of avocado, crispy chips and a dollop of cilantro cream, is an intriguing blend of flavors and textures.
Where: 9654 Belair Road, Perry Hall
Contact: 410-529-3474; conradscrabs.com
Open: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Credit Cards: All major
Bottom line: Smart, creative seafood dishes and friendly service are sometimes overshadowed by uneven execution.