Second time's a charm
Dockside VI Seafood Restaurant corrects its course in 2 1/2 years since last visit

BY POLLY CAMPBELL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Don't you hate it when some poor person gets arrested and indicted and it makes the front page, but the acquittal gets buried inside the paper? Restaurant reviewers sometimes do that, too, giving a restaurant a stringent going-over and then never returning to see if the problems were corrected.

When The Enquirer reviewed Dockside VI, the seafood restaurant in the Quality Hotel Central, Norwood, in October 1994, the verdict was pretty harsh. There was a new chef, an unwieldy menu.

Well, the chef ought to be broken in by now, and two months ago, a new menu was introduced. It's simple and likable, with changing seafood entree specials, plenty of non-seafood choices, plus one of the best salads in town. There are still a few rough spots, but I think Dockside VI can make a good case for the defense.

The restaurant's theme is nautical, but it's understated. There's an artificial stream outside, swimming with chilly-looking koi. Inside, three aquariums are full of fish to look at, not to eat.

The layout of the dining rooms is appealingly old-fashioned with nooks and crannies and several separate rooms. Walls, awnings and carpeting keep the noise level low. I love settling into a padded booth -- it's conducive to a long dinner and a good gossip session with friends. (Just be careful; the person you're gossiping about might be sitting in the next nook.)

The salad that's so good is the Dockside ($4.95), a rich combo of caramelized slices of pear, crunchy roasted nuts, crumbles of pungent stilton cheese and dainty lettuces in a balsamic dressing. It thoroughly deserved its Best of Taste award for 1996.

Some of the other starters are worth trying, too. The tender fried calamari ($4.95) is light and greaseless. Lobster strudel ($6.95) is a fancy package of lobster chunks, sun-dried tomatoes and a hint of goat cheese in a pastry wrapping. Oysters Rockefeller ($6.25) includes the classic bed of spinach and a cheesy broiled crust, but a richer-than-usual cream cheese sauce is added. The just-barely cooked oysters retain the slippery tang that makes you either love oysters or hate them. And if you do love oysters, you also can get them on the half-shell ($5.95) or fried ($6.50).

For sipping, I'm highly in favor of the wine list's quarter-bottle carafes ($4.50). They hold about a glass and a half, enough to get you through two courses.

Seafood Mardi Gras ($13.95) has been a Dockside VI staple through menu and chef changes, and deserves its spot. Rich cream-sauced pasta dishes are a standard item on restaurant menus, but this stands out for the quality and amount of seafood amid creamy linguine: tender, slightly seared bay scallops, chunks of sweet pink lobster and shrimp, all surrounded by mussels and clams in the shell.

The entree specials, which take advantage of what's fresh, are sophisticated but light seafood preparations. I had a triangle of tuna ($15.95) with a tart-sweet salsa of diced tropical fruit -- a fruit relish, really, with the light, transparent flavors that let the fresh fish taste come through. Fried shallots added a savory counterpoint. The sauce on the swordfish ($13.95) was similarly simple and textured: dried tomatoes, a little bit chewy, in a light dressing. The mixed grill from the regular menu ($14.95) is a good choice, well-prepared with straightforward flavors: three shrimp, a small beef filet with bearnaise and a portion of the catch of the day. If you're keeping it simple, stick with the redskin potatoes, but ask for the dense, garlicy mashed potatoes if you feel like something a little richer. Accompanying steamed vegetables are fresh and crunchy-tender.

Service at Dockside VI is less than polished. Our server one night was the type who unnecessarily keeps up a running commentary on what she's doing and what she's about to do. (''I'll just go get you those drinks . . . Here's your key lime pie.'') Another was awkward, broke the wine cork and when asked which she would recommend, the chicken, veal piccata or pork chops, said she didn't like any of them.

We chanced it on the pecan-crusted chicken ($13.95), and weren't sorry. Moist chicken breast is generously coated with crunchy, toasty pecans and served with a barbecue sauce that is described as honey-lime but is standard -- red, pungent, a little warm on the spices -- making it a hearty dish.

Dockside's checkerboard mousse cake won Best of Taste for desserts in 1996, but it wasn't on the dessert tray either night I visited. The desserts available (all $3.50) included key lime pie, fresh raspberries and peanut butter pie, all of which would have been excellent if the whipped cream had been less stiff and more genuine-tasting. The brownie volcano filled the need for something chocolatey and gooey unremarkably, but homemade apple pie was good.

Reviews are done anonymously at Enquirer expense. Ratings take into consideration quality of food, service, presentation and atmosphere, balanced against price.

Dockside VI Seafood Restaurant

***

Food: Good.

Service: Fair.

Atmosphere: Good.

Value: Good.

What: Hotel-based seafood restaurant with a cozy dining room and both standard and imaginative seafood dishes.

Where: 4747 Montgomery Road, in the Quality Hotel Central, Norwood.

When: Lunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, dinner 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 4-9 p.m. Sunday.

Recommended dishes: Dockside salad, lobster strudel, seafood Mardi Gras, seafood specials.

Vegetarian choices: Dockside salad, vegetable Napoleon, fusilli with artichokes.

Prices: Appetizers $4.95-$6.95; entrees $11.95-$17.95, lobster and crab $21.95-$25.95; desserts $3.50.

Paying for it: American Express, MasterCard, VISA, Discover, Diner's

Sound level: A peaceful 64-66 decibels on a Saturday and Tuesday night; pop music on sound system. (Most restaurants range from 60 decibels, a dignified calm, to 90 decibels, a din).

Reservations: Taken.

Miscellaneous: One small no-smoking room, separate bar, wine list, children's menu, wheelchair accessible.

Phone: 351-7400.