My anonymous eating cover was almost blown when I was fingered by a friend in a new seafood-centric restaurant. See, my pal lives close to that establishment, and like most locals in the busy eatery that evening, she could barely contain her gushing enthusiasm for her new, walkable, upscale-casual dining option. Fortunately, I was able to shush her with shrimp and grits before she caused a scene.
Rivage Atlantique - a fussily Frenched-up way of saying "Atlantic Coast" - is the restaurant in question. Taking over the former Cafe Daniella spot in Worthington, it's the well-performing result of a veteran East Coast chef and the owners of the Grandview Cafe.
The space has undergone a makeover, mostly by eradicating the cafeteria-like setup in the wood-burning-oven-equipped front room (Rivage makes good pizzas). And though the place is still "show up in shorts if you want" casual, overall it's fairly appealing.
Earth tones prevail as you move from the louder first room to the more duskily lit and more intimate interior dining areas where flames flicker in a hearth. Still, even there, sound levels can soar on busy nights as they carom off a tile floor.
Lastly, there's an accommodating back room with its own menu (though you can order from both menus if you ask) and a completely different vibe. Actually called the Back Room, it's basically a modern, upscale sports pub.
Upon being seated, Rivage demonstrates it wants to be taken seriously with its bread service. Specifically, a warm and OK loaf was considerably enlivened by a tripartite dish bearing a nice tapenade (chopped black olives, capers and herbs), olive oil dotted with balsamic vinegar, and grated grana padana cheese.
After ordering suds - the fine beer list trumps the wine offerings here - I opted for the oysters Rockefeller-riffing Oysters Rivage ($11). I liked them, even though my half-dozen bivalves got a little lost under toasted bread crumbs and a surprisingly smoky cream sauce. Ironically, this house-named appetizer proved uncharacteristic for Rivage, which in subsequent orders (including excellent selections from its "raw bar") generally treated impressively fresh-tasting proteins with simplicity.
Such was the case with the juicy Grilled Skirt Steak ($9) and the Baja Chile and Lime Ahi Tuna ($12) starters. Each arrived with about half a dozen clean-flavored and expertly seared bite-sized pieces of meat partnered with a flattering spread (an intense blue cheese and deeply caramelized onion jam for the turf and a decent-enough guacamole for the surf) plus a tuft of organic salad greens.
Rivage's Jumbo Seared Scallops, unlike those of many competitors, didn't lie about their size or get lost in a masking sauce. Efficiently caramelized and eminently fresh, they were paired with good and garlicky wilted spinach strewn with sun-dried tomato strips. These lovelies are available either as a starter (two scallops, $13) or an entree ($25), in which you get four massive scallops plus two sides such as buttery baby veggies and irresistibly cheesy potatoes.
The Low Country Shrimp and Grits ($18) were just that - five plump and sweet shrimp atop a bounteous bowl of creamy and stiff white grits. The only flourishes were a couple discs of smoky andouille sausage (I would've liked more) plus drizzles of garlicky melted butter.
With an opening game plan that suggests "don't mess with freshness," Rivage looks to be off to a commendable start. I can see why the neighborhood is gushing.