My one culinary goal was steamed hardshell blue crabs. They did have them, #1 males, and a sign in the bar said that live music would start at 10 pm.
We had a reservation for 4 on Saturday night at 8 pm. When we came in and gave our name, the hostess (quite pleasant) told us that one friend had called and wouldn't make it, but we decided to stay. Not a good call.
The place was half empty - a bad sign on a Saturday night. It was not large, and the lighting was dim. For the ambiance they present, the prices were kind of high. There were narrow, high gloss, wooden tables with boxes of old bay seasoning on them, brass fixtures on the walls, wood paneling halfway up, medium dark paint on the walls.
We ordered 2 cream of crab soups and an order of the mussels. I asked if the cream soup was much better than the vegetable crab and was assured it was. We ordered 2 beers. They brought a basket of bread - eggy rolls, sourdough, pumpernickel with raisins. All were on the verge of stale, very cold and clearly store-boughten.
The mussels were good, and there were lots of them. They came with terrific fries and a small container of spicy (old bay?) mayo that looked like it had been sitting a while - the texture on top was thicker and darker than that beneath. It was, however, quite tasty. We weren't sure what the fries were cooked in, maybe the same oil that the fish is fried in? Whichever, the fries were the best thing about the meal! They were thin, with skin on and not too much salt.
The crab soup was nice and hot, but it didn't have much crab at all in it. The taste was overwhelmingly of cream, and not much else. We suspected that they made a good stock with crab shells, but then didn't put much of anything else in it.
Before we were done with our appetizers, mostly before we were done with the mussels, as they take a bit longer to eat than soup does, the main courses came out - bad kitchen timing, as our main courses sat and got cold while we finished the appetizers. It was a good thing we only had 3 people, because there was not enough room on the table. They slid some brown butcher paper under my plate so I'd have a place to crack the crabs. They gave me a mallet and a knife, but no pick. Eventually I asked for one, and got a cocktail fork - I was able to use the other end of the fork reasonably well to get meat out of the back.
I ordered 3 steamed crabs and a crabcake - make that an entire crabcake sandwich platter minus the bread! Too much food, but live and learn. My companions both got the seared tuna. One asked for it as they said the chef liked to make it "medium rare" and one asked for it "pittsburgh style" - just flash seared. The "medium rare" came very rare and sliced into medallions, the other came as a steak, so we didn't see how cooked it was inside.
Because the entrees had sat so long, they were cold. One of my companions asked the waiter to re-do the tuna, because it had sat so long (a good 10 minutes or longer) while we finished up the mussels. The waiter proceeded to give us an explanation of what flash-seared meant, and that the inside should be cold. We tried to explain that we knew that, but that it had sat so long that the outside was cold and the inside warm. The waiter got defensive saying "I'm not trying to start an argument" - and I think he completely missed our point. He did take it back, and it returned over-cooked. We decided not to complain again, because at this point we figured it was a lost cause, which probably cemented the idea in his head that we didn't understand how seared tuna is supposed to be. In any case the broccoli and garlic mashed potatoes that came with it were quite good, but both orders of tuna seemed to be made with tuna that wasn't the quality you should use when searing. The cooked part was stringy, the rare part mushy.
My crabs were over-cooked and under-spiced, probably they came out of the kitchen fine, but given how they retain heat, they overcooked as they sat on the table while we finished up the mussels. Also, my crabs came at the same time as my crab cake - I probably should have specified one to come first. Somehow, I don't recall the crabs I have had in the past being so very very very hot, and on a hot plate. But my recollection may be faulty.
The crab cake came with the very good fries and some very good coleslaw. And there seemed to be a lot of lumps of crab meat inside. Unfortunately it was bound with huge amounts of poorly distributed soggy bread crumbs and nothing else - no sauteed bits of onion or celery, no seasoning, not even salt or old bay!
We paid the tab, and as we left, we tried to talk to the manager - not in a critical way, just an informative one. We didn't expect any sort of credit, or refund or whatever, we just wanted him to know our experience so that he would understand where maybe they could make some improvements. And he was completely defensive - it wasn't until I finally said explicitly (and fairly loudly) "look - we don't want a refund or anything, you just need to know about some problems with your kitchen timing" that he calmed down and said "oh, ok, yeah, we'll look into that." And it was clear that the conversation was over, so we left.
The small crowd in the bar seemed like a young post-college group, and there was some sort of problem with people wanting to smoke and not being allowed to smoke until after 10 pm (is that a law in DC now? the hostess was smoking and there were people smoking in the bathroom)
Overall it was a real disappointment, and unless they are doing a huge bar business, I think it is not going to last.
1160 20th St. (b/w L & M)
Washington, DC 20036
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