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500 Jackson

As seafood goes, you get what you pay for... or so we thought. 500 Jackson, the new kid on the Historic District block (which once housed the Cypress Club), proved this old adage false with the highs and lows of their conservatively-priced, contemporary American seafood.

The menu from Executive Chef Robert Murphy (formerly of LuLu) offers a fair-sized selection of seafood and "land food," as well as salads, comfort-food sides, a host of starters, and a raw bar with a selection of oysters on the half shell. The prices range from a cheap-lunch Po'Boy for $9 to a splurge-night Clam Bake for Two for $60. The wine list changes constantly and offers a nice variety. The restaurant has an inviting bar near the entry, which could be a pleasant destination in itself. What we really came for, though, was the seafood.

Anti-carb disciples beware: The little spicy cornbread sticks that start the meal are among the best you'll get, period. Good luck keeping your hands off those guilty pleasures! After the carb fest, we had high hopes for my Crab Cake with Pickled Fennel starter ($11.50). We were somewhat disappointed to receive a rather bland cake buried under a suspiciously mayonnaise-y "tartar sauce." The soup offered little redemption, too. A noble attempt to combine sweet potato and lobster into a savory bisque form ($8), it was a nice idea that just didn't work out.

The meal was far from over, and we were anticipating some famed seafood entrees to save the dinner. Indeed, they did. The Cedar Plank Roasted Atlantic Salmon ($14.75) was nothing short of stellar. In fact, it probably swam onto the cedar plank on which it's served. Served with sautéed spinach, it was a modest presentation with exuberant flavors. It is, quite simply, the best salmon that $14.75 will buy. The Fennel-Crusted Day Boat Scallops with Rosemary, Lemon, and Green Onion Risotto ($15.95) were of equally high quality. Buttery and flavorful, the richness of the risotto balanced perfectly the elegant simplicity of the precisely prepared scallops.

Our happy tummies were just recovering from the feast when our pleasant server approached with huge rubber stamp in hand, and proceeded to stamp the entire dessert menu straight onto the white paper table covering. This attempt to charm us into ordering dessert worked as planned, and the next thing we knew, the Persimmon Bread Pudding Cake and the Banana Brownie Flambé were melting in our mouths. The latter dessert was great. The former was exquisite. Dripping with a velvety vanilla ice cream, the gingerbread-like spiced cake practically forced us to pinch ourselves. Ending on such a high note, we couldn't help but leave wishing good things for the newest endeavor of proprietors Todd Kniess (Liaison) and John Skaggs (Left Bank Restaurants).

By and large, one of the most appealing aspects of our meal was most certainly the ambiance. Warm woods and mellow lighting create an intoxicating atmosphere of comfort. It's a primo casual dinner date destination and a great place to meet a friend after work. Not everything on the menu comes out perfectly, but all in all, 500 Jackson is an affordable choice for discerning seafood lovers.