Open Monday through saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. to midnight. BA, AE, MC. No reservations for groups of less than six.
Food: Good crabs and other simple seafood dishes
Style: Handmade - looking furniture, about as casual as you can get
Price: A feast and a mug of beer for under $10
YOU MIGHT AS WELL go very hungry to the Dancing Crab. You are going to eat a lot anyway. They encourage you with all-you-can-eat seafood specials most evenings. Tuesday through Saturday, from 7 to 11 p.m., for instance, $7.95 brings raw oysters and clams, spiced shrimp, steamed clams, corn on the cob, cole slaw and french fries. Tuesdays and Thursdays, at the same hours, they have all-you-can-eat crab feasts, at least when crabs are in, which should be about now. Some restaurants' all-you-can-eats make their way by serving food which doesn't tempt you back for second helpings. The Dancing Crab, however, draws full houses for its seafood even on single-portion days.
They respect crabs, for one thing, cooking them properly and seasoning them hotly. Oysters and clams are opened to order and, while the sizes vary, freshness seems consistent. Steamers meet the same standards except that you are unconscionably expected to wash off the sand by dipping the clams into a little cup of warm water instead of clam broth - and there goes the flavor into that little cup. That small flaw aside, the Dancing Crab does raw and steamed seafood well. That, along with the fact that they sometimes feature Monday night clam and lobster bakes which must be ordered ahead, and have specials like Alaskan crab legs, is what you need to know about the Dancing Crab to enjoy its best - unless you don't already know that crabs are likely to be very expensive this year (nobody was predicting how expensive when this went to press, but small to medium Louisiana crabs were fetching $9 a dozen).
If you stray too far from the raw or steamed shellfish, you will be reminded that, despite its proximite to large bodies of water, Washington is not a seafood town. With fried seafood, the Dancing Crab does better than most, but not well enough to brag to your visiting relatives. The clams, oysters and crabmeat start out fresh, as does the fish filet. Shrimp, as usual comes frozen. But they clothe these fragile seafoods in a ponderous cornmeal batter and mix the crabmeat into cakes with too much thickener. Even though they then fry them just right - not a whit past juiciness - the seafoods are inhibited by their breading. Just a slightly lighter touch could do wonders. Not to mention a more generous doing of oysters on the fried oyster sandwich.
Even so, the fried seafood, since they have no broiled seafood, is a good bet. Where the Dancing Crab patron runs into trouble is with the side dishes. The french fries, to start, are tough and dry, as if they had been defrosted and reheated by the early morning shift.The cole slaw isn't bad, and the corn on the cob is no more dismal than one should expect it to be when it is served out of season. But the clam chowder certainly would be happier with more clams to keep its lonely few company. And the Dancing Crab management must believe, along with the rest of us, that there is an inverse relationship between the quality of a seafood restaurant and its desserts. The few nondescript bakery cakes and pies can be ignored with no loss on your part.