Do you ever try really, really hard to like something despite negative feelings to the contrary? Try really hard to see beyond flaws in order to find a glimmer of the positive? That’s how I often feel when I visit Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood.
Quieter and less touristy than Old Town, Del Ray should be—and gallantly tries to be—a hub for locals in search of good food and drink away from the costly and congested King Street hangouts. There is no shortage of eateries in Del Ray, mostly running along Mt. Vernon Avenue—Del Ray’s central dining and shopping thoroughfare. By all rights, this area should be great. There’s a cheese shop, a great ice cream place, and my favorite wine shop in town. Unfortunately, with a couple of exceptions, the restaurants in Del Ray are underwhelming, at best, leaving me always wanting more and sadly disappointed each time we visit.
We recently set out yet again in an attempt to find that missing go-to spot in Del Ray. Our latest hope was the recently-opened seafood restaurant, Catch on the Ave. The Del Ray curse persists, however, as this place, too, fell short of our expectations.
The most off-putting thing about our meal at Catch on the Ave was the insane number of screaming children that filled the restaurant. I know, I know, this isn’t the fault of the establishment, and this issue has plagued restaurants in Del Ray for some time. But seriously, it felt like we were eating dinner at a fucking Chuck E. Cheeses! That’s a big ol’ minus in the ambiance category.
The service at Catch on the Ave also really missed the mark. At 6:00 pm on a Tuesday, the restaurant was far from busy, yet it took almost an hour and forty-five minutes to eat our meal of one appetizer and one entrée each. What’s more, our server was unable to answer very basic questions, such as the market price for lobster and oysters or what ingredients were in various dishes and cocktails. For a place that’s now been open for nearly eight months, I expected better.
Obviously, all of the above issues aside, what’s most important is the quality of the food. I’d dine in a nest of screaming toddlers for the right bite, but that wasn’t to be found here—though the dishes did show flashes of promise.
We began our meal with she-crab soup and crab dip. The soup was good, if not quite great. It was more reminiscent of a chowder than true she-crab soup. It contained a nice amount of crab but was a bit one-note and lacked that hit of sherry needed to cut through the rich, creamy broth. It could have been served hotter, as well.
The crab dip, on the other hand, was exceptional. Less cream cheese heavy than most, this dip was savory and full of crab flavor and is just the kind of appetizer one would expect at a quality seafood restaurant. It remains the only item from Catch on the Ave I find myself craving.
Along with our appetizers, we enjoyed a round of cocktails. If nothing else, the people at Catch on the Ave really know how to mix a drink, and I would give strong consideration to returning just to enjoy some well-made beverages.
The main courses were really where things took a turn for the worse. Kathleen’s fish and chips was underseasoned and unremarkable. The chips were bland thin fries rather than the thick, salty accompaniment to a classic fish and chips.
My bang-bang shrimp po’boy was decent—the sauce slightly lemony and lighter than the average bang-bang—but the sandwich was tiny. Two or three small shrimp on each half, I consumed the mini po’boy in about three bites. Kathleen’s fish was likewise miniscule, falling well-short of what you would expect for nineteen dollars.
Catch on the Ave showed just enough in their food to tempt me to consider a return trip, especially to revisit the delightful crab dip. Maybe some weekend afternoon when we feel like downing a few adult beverages we’ll give them another try. Or then again, given the number of children we encountered, maybe a midnight snack would be a better bet.