O'Donnell's Seafood Restaurant

American, Seafood
$$$$ ($15-$24)
Please note: O'Donnell's Seafood Restaurant is no longer a part of the Going Out Guide

Editorial Review

Updated December 2011

Planned retro-communities such as Kentlands, with their blend of nostalgic architecture and modern convenience, sometimes seem to be further generations of earlier bedroom communities -- Bethesda, for instance -- in just the way Bethesda was once the after-hours escape for disaffected downtowners.

And that is why a family restaurant like O'Donnell's -- family-style and family-owned -- is itself in its third generation, migrating along with its audience from downtown to Bethesda and then to the Kentlands.

Although the other locations are long gone, after more than 80 years, O'Donnell's is still turning out the Norfolk-style seafood -- sauteed in butter and finished with tarragon vinegar -- that made founder Tom O'Donnell famous. It's especially hard to resist in combination, with chicken lobster tails, lump crab and shrimp.

The bar-fare openers, such as Cajun-fried oysters, spinach-artichoke dip and shrimp cocktail, go down all too easy; the bisque is very good. For plainer palates, O'Donnell's has a half-dozen fish choices that can be "simply prepared" -- grilled, broiled, poached, pan-fried or blackened – but it also has a handful of modern standards, such as pan-seared salmon or tuna.

The peculiar tradition of serving sweet cinnamon rolls with seafood is a long-time puzzle, but they must be popular, because they get hurried out quickly to guests.

O'Donnell's manages to turn over whole parties in about an hour without ever making service seem anything but comfortable -- a trick many more expensive seafood spots in Washington would do well to study.

O'Donnell's building itself isn't showy, a slightly Victorian farmhouse, but it has many virtues: a likable, eat-in lounge; two dining rooms, one entirely installed with booths; a smallish enclosed porch with tables; and a larger outdoor deck for warm-weather dining.

-- Going Out Guide staff