Whether it was its inelegant name or the sheer size of this family-friendly restaurant, The Real Seafood Co. never struck me as place where the food could be much better than at Red Lobster. After going there three times since coming to Ann Arbor, I can happily say that I was wrong. Located on Main St., the salty ocean smells of freshly-caught fish can always be detected wafting from this seafood restaurant. The ambiance is inviting, though not enchanting, with rooms of heavy tables and walls decorated in a generic “fish” theme. It is a casual dining experience, no jacket required, and when the place fills up, it’s bustling with groups of friends, young families, and plenty of little kids.
The first time I went to The Seafood Co. I was immediately distracted by the menus. Instead of printed pages, every guest is given an electronic tablet that has the menu uploaded and allows the guest to scroll through it by touchscreen activation. Clicking on the menu item brings up a picture of the dish so that you can see exactly what you are getting. While this is an excellent idea and an interesting set up, our waitress had to come back again to take our order because I was too busy playing with the menu instead of reading it.
The seafood here is consistently some of the freshest in Ann Arbor, and because of that the chefs create their dishes with a minimalist flair. As an appetizer, the calamari is what you’d hope to find at a seafood restaurant. It’s lightly breaded, yet still soft and is served with what they call a cilantro aioli, though I was expecting it to have a much stronger presence. The calamari is so fresh, however, that the meat is melt-in-your-mouth tender, a far cry from the bubblegum texture of other dishes. Mussels are another of my favorites and when they arrived at the table plump and perfectly steamed I thought I was in heaven. The menu says they are served in a white wine butter sauce, but I firmly believe that they were just steamed with water and a handful of fresh herbs. This minimalist approach allows the flavor of the mussels to be appreciated as a singular note - the slight fishiness, the small pop of lemon - but as someone who loves butter and wine, it was a little disappointing to not be able to taste it.
Along with your meal, the restaurant serves a basket of fresh bread and butter. The bread is incredible, and like everything else, is fresh and simply flavored. For my meal, I ordered the pepper-seared tuna from the appetizer menu. It’s served with three strips of barely seared tuna crusted in crushed pepper, a small mound of white rice, wasabi, and a mango salsa that ended up being my favorite part. I actually had to ask for extra. It is a very light dish, but when you get all the components into one bite it’s a great palate stimulator. The one aspect I found disappointing was the way fish had been sliced. Each piece had a substantial amount of skin on one side, which was rubbery and resilient, and made it impossible to cut and eat the fish without massacring it. When I mentioned it to the waiters, though, they were happy to bring me another slice.
My roommate joined me for the meal and had the Dijon soy glazed swordfish served with the same mango salsa and a rice pilaf. It is a much heartier dish and is perfect for the non-seafood lover. The texture of the swordfish is reminiscent of chicken and the flavors are comforting in their combination.
This was my first time having dessert at The Real Seafood Co. and I was pleasantly surprised. The server brings a display of all the desserts offered over to your table, a large circular tray full of cheesecake, apple crisp, key lime pie, crème brulee, and a brandy chocolate mousse. I went straight for the mousse, my roommate opting for the apple crisp which is served a la mode. The strength of the brandy in mousse was spectacular, and though it isn’t particularly light and airy, it has a richness that is rather sinful. It’s served with fresh whip cream and berries, both of which I found myself craving more of. My roommate’s apple crisp was traditional - warm, sprinkled with cinnamon, but relatively uneventful.
Final recommendation: The Real Seafood Co. is a place to go with family because while the food is good and the fish always fresh, the prices are still high for the budget of a typical college student. The atmosphere lends itself to accommodating a larger party because while the place is comfortable, but I would not consider it intimate enough for a romantic night out. The food is basic in the sense that it fulfills its promise of fresh seafood but doesn’t really go beyond that. So if you like your seafood like Don Draper likes his scotch, straight-up, then this is the place for you.
If you would like to learn more about The Real Seafood Co. here is some basic contact information:
The Real Seafood Co.
341 South Main Street
Ann Arbor,MI 48104
Reservations: (888) 456-3463
11:30AM-11PM Fri & Sat
1PM - 9PM Sun