A Feast for Eyes or Appetite
By Tom Sietsema
The Washington Post Magazine
Sunday, Oct. 29, 2006
I'm an optimist by nature, a skeptic by trade. As much as I want to like all the places where I eat, reality often intervenes: I eat bad food so you don't have to. When I heard that Tony and Joe's Seafood Place had reformulated its menu by hiring someone with good credentials -- Charlie Bauer, the executive chef at the two-star Rockfish in Annapolis (and before that, at the similarly delicious O'Learys in Annapolis) -- I was eager to give the behemoth waterfront restaurant in Georgetown a try. I also knew I was headed into tourist territory.
Such a pleasant view! The umbrella-shaded tables outside are just yards away from the Potomac. The lure of the water is strong, and Tony and Joe's acknowledges that with 200 al fresco seats.
Two hitches: You have to order a meal to occupy those prime perches. And the dishes that come closest to anything I'd want to eat again tend not to involve seafood: a cheesy spinach dip served with a long loaf of bread; nutmeg-laced potatoes au gratin; and meaty ribs in a sweet, brick-colored barbecue sauce. ("Yabba-dabba-doo!" a dining companion said as the Flintstones-size ribs were dropped on the table.) A notable exception is the soothing clam chowder -- a dish that better reflects my previous experience with Bauer's places of employment.
Other than an engaging young waiter on my last visit, whose wine presentation was admirable for such a bustling enterprise, there's not a lot to praise at Tony and Joe's. "Some things we do very well," the server told a gaggle of us, implying that there were some things that the kitchen wasn't very good at. Actually, that list is pretty long: The onion rings are bland; the crab cakes are bready; the tuna tartare is too tame (and too cold); and the supposedly "blackened" red snapper proves so muted in flavor that a friend compares its taste to water. Clams casino, glistening beneath an oil slick, have the texture of chewing gum.
It's easier to endure the flaws when the weather is fair and you're outside. Sitting in the blue-tinted dining room, which is going on 20 years old and looking every minute its age, is like riding steerage on a faded cruise ship -- a vessel without a captain at the helm.