It’s a short walk from Norfolk’s Waterside to Omar’s Carriage House and top-of-the-line dining.
Paul and I had gone to Norfolk’s annual Harborfest to sing a few songs and watch the schooner Virginia under sail. While there, we met up with CBM writer Paul Clancy and his wife Barbara, who led us away from the hubbub at Waterside into the quiet side streets of Freemason, the small residential community north of Town Point Park. There we found a tidy brick restaurant called Omar’s Carriage House. We had reservations for dinner, and what a dinner it was!
This is a small place with a casual but spunky elegance-about 10 tables downstairs and another half dozen upstairs. We were seated almost directly below the hay drop (apparently a carriage house also included stalls for the carriage horses), and though the other tables were full, we didn’t feel crowded or hemmed in. There were four of us at a smallish table with a candle and flowers in the center. They had to go, we said, so we could swap bites of food easily. Without a word, our waiter deftly pulled the offending articles off the table.
Once settled in and comfortable, we ordered a bottle of wine and began to peruse the menu. The appetizers consisted of soup du jour; several different salads, ranging from simple greens to heartier combinations that would make a light meal; a bit of sushi (Tuna Tartare), Gorgonzola-stuffed barbecue shrimp; and a bit of succulence called Crab Fleuron, which we ordered (because it had crab) along with the Portabella Rockefeller (because it was fun to say).
The crab was served with a light basil and tomato cream sauce over a tender puff pastry, easily cut with a fork. The portabella dish was topped with an intriguing pattern of what looked like melted chocolate-”Real balsamic vinegar,” our waiter said. I licked a bit off my little finger and was surprised by its rich smoky taste. A little of that could go a long way, but it added an interesting dimension to the spinach-ham-Asiago cheese “stuffing” atop the mushroom. In Barbara’s words: “There’s a lot of flavor stuff going on.” I actually broke my no-white-bread rule and sopped up the last of it with a dinner roll (sadly, no multigrain table bread here).
The entrees on the menu were far from ordinary. We could choose fish, oysters, scallops or crab, many served with delectable sounding sauces-salmon with lemon dijonnaise cream, for example. Or we could opt for a tempting array of veal, duck, pork, beef, lamb or chicken. Paul C. decided on the pan-seared crabcakes, served with aioli, mashed potatoes and veggies. Barbara chose the Delmonico rib-eye, a 14-ounce steak served with green peppercorn demi-glace and horseradish aioli. Paul ordered the Smithfield pork “osso bucco,” braised pork shanks served with mashed potatoes and snow peas. I went with the cedar-planked roasted duck. “How do they plank the duck?” I asked, thinking of planked shad, which is literally nailed to oak planks and smoked over an open fire. Without batting an eye, our waiter said, “They had to hit the duck with a plank to kill it.” I’m pretty sure he was kidding, but it didn’t much matter. However one planks a duck, the serving I got was melt-in-your-mouth good. Tender slices of duck were drizzled with a cherry-cognac demi-glace (whole cherries, mind you), sweet and tart. There was plenty to share, and we all swapped bites liberally across the open table. The pork and the steak were done to a turn. The crabcakes were more unusual-not the traditional mayo-mustard-egg blend. These were saucier, somehow, though we couldn’t quite identify it. They were decidedly lumpy-Paul C. called them “crab plus.”
Desserts are prepared daily. We had our choice of bread pudding, lemon souffle, chocolate mousse, chocolate cake. . . . We zeroed in on the lemon coconut cake, a lemony cake slathered with fresh (yes!) coconut icing, and the peanut butter pie-oh my! Admittedly, we took a risk on this one. Peanut butter pie can be a downright awful soppy mess that sticks to your craw. Not this one. It was like eating peanut butter mousse with a touch of chocolate, not a bit cloying. A truly delightful end to a delightful meal.
Omar’s Carriage House is at 313 W. Bute Street, about a 10-minute walk north from Waterside. (Go west on Water Street to Boush Street, follow Boush for about six blocks, then turn left on Freemason Street, right on Yarmouth Street and left on W. Bute.) There is limited off-street parking next to the building. Omar’s is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday; brunch only on Sunday. Lunch $6.25–$9.95; dinner appetizers $3.95–$9.95; entrees $14.95–$21.95; Sunday brunch $7.95–$12.95. Weekend reservations strongly recommended. Major credit cards accepted. 757-622-4990.