|Pleased at Paul's on the South River
Located just south of the Riva Bridge on the bank of the South River, Pauls on the South River considers no party too big or too small. The restaurant, which dates back to 1945, is set up to accommodate intimate dinners for two or larger parties of 250. It is not unheard of for Pauls to have four wedding receptions in one weekend. Mothers Day brunch served 1,000, while Easter brought in close to 900.
You might worry that a restaurant that can pump out such grand numbers would lose focus on the individual, but I can assure you that wasnt the case on my recent visit.
Ill admit that I found it a little saccharin-sweet when, after parking the car, I was welcomed to Pauls with a Musak version of Somewhere over the Rainbow broadcast from outdoor speakers. To their credit, once inside the tune was no longer audible.
Pauls is a one-level brick structure with plenty of windows to enjoy the South River view. Unfortunately, due to its setback from the river, youre as likely to notice the surrounding parking lot, busy bridge traffic and comings and goings at Mikes, the restaurant next door.
The interior is done in shades of mauve, burgundy and green with grape vines and ficus trees aglow with festive white lights. The main dining room is where youre likely to sit unless you have a private party or you visit on the next major holiday. This large room has about three dozen tables draped in white cloths decorated with candlelight, finer china, and comfortable high- and low-back bamboo chairs. General manager Loveta Wilen describes it as casual elegance.
Greeted by a friendly yet professionally serious maitre d, we joined our guests at the small bar in one of the adjoining rooms. I got the impression that this was not standard practice and that most drinks were served at your table, but I like the idea of warming up for dinner even if it is in a large empty room in the process of being readied for a wedding reception the following day.
After some friendly socializing and cocktail sipping (house white wine $3.25), we were guided to our table. I like the fact that our server insisted on carrying our drinks to our table: That kind of attention to detail makes a difference. Menus were distributed, water poured and specials announced.
The evenings specials included red snapper baked with crabmeat ($21.95) and grilled tuna with sautéed shrimp in a white wine herb sauce ($17.95). All entrees are served with a house salad, vegetable (green beans) and potato (roasted red skins). A basket of warm rolls and ramekins of whipped butter got us started.
Service was attentive but not pushy. We asked lots of questions, and our waitress either had the answers or got them for us. Special requests were accommodated without hesitation. In response to an inquiry regarding the softness of the nights softshell crabs, our waitress presented a fully dressed platter of crabs for our examination. They were from North Carolina, as was the other crabmeat used at Pauls that late May night, and still a bit harder than we would like.
Unless you have a hearty appetite or are ordering from the handy petit menu, appetizers may be overkill, but the descriptions were too intriguing to pass up. Our choices were baked clams Delmonico ($5.95), three top neck clams topped with lump crab and herb butter; Maine mussels ($6.50), a large bowl of plump Prince Edward Island mussels steamed and soaking in a decadent saffron and basil cream sauce; and Thai calamari ($6.95), large rings fried with a batter of crushed peanuts and served with a spicy Thai dipping sauce. It sounds like a lot, and it was. I could have easily stopped here, but my work was just beginning.
While salads are often not worthy of mention, Pauls house salad of fresh spring greens, cranberries and the house honey Dijon vinaigrette was wonderful. For an additional $2.75 you can upgrade to a Caesar, spinach or avocado, sliced tomato and sliced onion salad. The spinach salad was a standout.
For entrees, the menu is heavy on seafood and balanced with beef, veal and chicken. The veal sirloin ($24.95) pan-seared and topped with sautéed shrimp, fresh blueberries and gorgonzola cheese was a favorite of our dinner guests, who find it difficult to order anything else. The filet mignon ($24.95) prepared with sautéed sun-dried tomatoes and fresh herbs also got thumbs up. I went with the red snapper special and was pleased with the large portion simply baked and piled with a heaping of lump crab meat.
As perfect companion to our meal, we selected a wonderful bottle of 1997 Joseph Phelps Le Mistral red table wine ($37) from the wine list.
And as the icing on our cake, we capped our evening with a snowball ($4.25), a large scoop of vanilla ice cream rolled in toasted coconut and slathered in a coating of chocolate amaretto sauce.
All in all, it was a splendid evening, leaving us feeling full from the food and spoiled from the attentive service.
3027 Riva Road Riva 410/956-3410
Proprietor: Burt Kappel
Reason to go: Pauls attention to detail makes a difference.
Something to think about: Unless you have a hearty appetite, appetizers may be overkill.