Open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., for dinner Sunday through Thursday 6 p.m. to midnight, Friday and Saturday 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. MC, V. No reservations. Prices: Main courses at lunch $7 to $11, at dinner $6.50 to $11.50, most under $10. Full dinner with wine, tax and tip about $15 to $20 a person.
Ordinarily we have to struggle with a choice between good seafood and reasonably priced seafood. Not at The Georgetowne Seafood House; it lets us eat good
seafood and afford it, too.
How does $9 for lobster sound ($13 when stuffed with crabmeat)? $7 for tr salmon? $7.45 for Florida prawns? $8.50 to $9.50 for a scallop or crabmeat entree? Sounds like it can't be good, doesn't it. But sure enough, that $7 salmon tastes fresh and decently grilled--a smidgeon overcooked, but certainly respectable. The bluefish, also charcoal-grilled, is even better, being thicker and therefore juicier. Those Florida prawns have been an astonishing value, big and meaty, highly seasoned and nicely grilled over charcoal.
But you can tell as soon as you step through the door. A counter along one side of the room displays fresh fish on ice, along with cooked lobsters. The blackboard on the rear wall outlines the catch of the day: the fish filets to be grilled, the Florida lobster thermidor ($9). And the menu, its prices penned in, expounds on the everyday stable of dishes--all seafood except a sirloin steak ($9).
Appetizers range from clams or oysters on the half shell ($3) to shrimp cocktail, snails, king crab or crab claw and spiced shrimp--nine large ones for $3.85 on my last visit. There is also a superior crab soup at $3.25, meal-size, nearly a vegetable stew with chunks of softshell crab and a vaguely Indian cast to the seasoning.
That seasoning permeates much of the food; it is intricate and spicy, with the tang of cumin as well as many other fragrances. It spices the shrimp, is brushed on the prawns, underlies the soup and pops up here and there on the plate. It is overused, to be sure, but this "house fragrance" is a definite improvement on the bitter seafood seasoning more familiarly found in seafood restaurants.
One caution among the appetizers: the stone crab claws, $1.50 each, are, like all stone crab claws eaten outside of Florida, watery and tasteless. Stick to the local seafood or spiced shrimp.
Among the main courses, as in most seafood restaurants, you are going to be best served by the daily specials. Georgetowne Seafood House knows how to cook fish, which is to say, very little. Plain charcoal-grilled fish, what can be the quarrel as long as it is not overcooked?
And this is one of the few seafood restaurants where you are safe wandering a bit into the intricacies. The lobsters I have tasted seemed precooked, but at $9 they are an astonishing buy, and still fresh and sweet though tepid. Crab is done well here, whether a crab cake that is an unorthodox but delicious broiled mound of lightly bound crab with no discernible filler, or Norfolk-style, saut,eed in butter with that ubiquitous spice mix. The crab is in large lumps, sweet and fresh, a reminder of our good luck at being within a truck stop of the Chesapeake Bay (or Texas or wherever it comes from in midwinter). The menu also lists four shrimp dishes, crab imperial, scallops grilled in bacon, stewed in beer or a la provencal, as well as frogs' legs. A fairly small menu, but with dishes appropriately simple. B,earnaise is served with the grilled fish, and its nondescript character reminds one to be grateful for simplicity.
One affectation that doesn't work is the little rack on which grilled fish is served on each plate. It does set the mood for the charcoal taste, but it is awkward for cutting one's fish. Also awkward are the coleslaw (soggy and tasteless, clumsily cut and unappealing) and the charcoal-grilled potato half that needs butter at least to perk it up. What happened to those superb (though stone-cold) french fries we were served on our first visit, which are still promised on the menu?
Beyond seafood, in other words, this restaurant exhibits powerful indifference. The service we encountered was clumsy, amateurish and on at least one occasion inexcusably slow. That was the night we waited an hour for the food. Good cheer is always welcome, but is not a substitute for good service.
A note on wine: the list is small. There are two champagnes at quite reasonable prices ($16 for Domaine Chandon from California, $26 for Lanson, a very good import), plus about eight California wines ranging from $7 to $12.50. The list serves the purpose of this casual restaurant, nonetheless, and the markups are just enough to give the restaurant a reasonable profit but not give the diner indigestion.
For some reason, this modest restaurant offers elaborate cakes for dessert. They look significantly better than they taste, though the Black Forest cake is a good bet if you're neither full nor up to wandering down the street to Cone E. Island or the snazzy new ice cream parlor in the Georgetown Park shopping mall.
Anybody who has been around Georgetown for awhile will recognize The Georgetowne Seafood House as the old Caf,e de Paris. The two small rooms have been tossed a few nets to turn the scene nautical. Brick walls, low ceiling with a single skylight and candlelight don't quite save the back room from a slightly gloomy air, but the front room with raw bar and a wall full of fishy amusements--fish molds, fish baskets, fish plates, fish pillows--makes a much more chipper introduction.
It could be that The Georgetowne Seafood House will be but a single course in a series of reincarnations of Caf,e de Paris. Like Caf,e de Paris it has some good and interesting food in constant danger of being overcome by creeping ineptness. Caf,e de Paris held out for a long time. If the seafood house does as well for as long it will contribute something to Washington.