Open for lunch Tuesday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., for dinner Tuesday through Thursday 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., open Sunday 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Reservations. Prices: $3.25 to $8.95 for lunch; main courses at dinner average $10 to $13. Full dinner with wine, tax and tip about $25 a person.
The happiest of marriages is that of a seafood restaurant with a seafood shop. And even after the honeymoon is long past--at Falls Landing, for example-- the relationship remains a rewarding one for the diners.
Falls Landing is run by Cannon's, whose branch store is just a few clapboard houses away, in a pretty little "village" of shops around a green. The restaurant is entered by a brick walk from the parking lot, and so attractive is the setting and entrance, with small-paned windows inviting you into the dining room, that you are predisposed to like the food.
A fire is crackling in the fireplace, and the solid wood paneling against the grayed neutral walls reinforces the warmth. Brass sconces on the walls, brass chandeliers from the ceiling and brass hurricane lamps on the tables throw a golden glow. On various sideboards are spiky and spectacular flower arrangements. The room reeks of authentic materials and quality. The prints on the walls are handsome and even the restrooms are charmingly decorated with patterned tiles and stenciled borders on the walls. What's more, the tables are well spaced. In all, Falls Landing is a comfortable and generously appointed restaurant.
The wine list, though, spoils the show. A seafood restaurant can concentrate in depth on white wines; this one offers a small choice of wines that are generally mediocre, and charges hefty, though not exorbitant, prices for them. At best one might try the 1980 Sterling Sauvignon Blanc (misidentified on list as "Cabernet Sauvignon Blanc") for about $15. Given most of the choices, though, one can only hope that the management cares more about its food than its wine.
It certainly cares about service. Waiters and waitresses in black vests and pants know their stuff, whether it be the food, the wine or how to attend well to diners without overwhelming them.
A similar professionalism shows in the food-buying. Falls Landing's oysters on the half-shell one day proved the best I've had in town: large, fat and briny. The next time I tried them they were every bit as good. They are also inventively served with the cocktail sauce in an empty shell. The fish at Falls Landing is obviously fresh and of high quality, the crabmeat in large, snowy lumps and the shrimp big and of clean flavor. The menu ranges throug a half-dozen varieties of plain broiled fish, shrimp or fish stuffed with crabmeat, fried seafood, Norfolk-style dishes and exotics such as sole with bananas and salmon with mozzarella, Canadian bacon and truffles. You can get a plain lobster or steak (but not, thanks to somebody's good sense, on the same plate). You also find, alongside those main dishes, superior french fries or an unfoiled baked potato, and a fresh vegetable--one day a firm broccoli under a perfectly good hollandaise.
Chef Ihsan, as the waiter may volunteer, is Turkish. And with that information you should know exactly what to order. Turkish cuisine is famous, in part, for its swordfish, and Ihsan's swordfish brochettes are large chunks of full-flavored fish crusty with grill marks and meltingly tender, interspersed with big crisp shrimp. At $12, it is a good buy as well as one of the city's most delicious seafood dishes. The crab cakes, too, are impeccable, as long as you don't mind heavily seasoned crab cakes. I would prefer the taste of the crab left more on its own, but it is lump crabmeat with hardly any binder or breading, and no discernible bits of shell.
Otherwise, Falls Landing too often falls short of the superlatives its fresh fish imply. A flounder stuffed with fine crab filling was a mite overcooked, its pristine texture lost. And the crabmeat could have used less pimiento. Salmon steak in a hot caper sauce, garnished with a dollop of fresh salmon caviar, was nice but missed memorability because the fish was just the wrong side of dryness, and the buttery caper sauce lacked the definition a talented saucier could have given it. Veal topped with crabmeat had the proper ingredients, but the veal was overpounded and the brown sauce vague.
The fried seafoods I encountered were made with all the right moves: large butterflied shrimp, snowy fresh fish and resilient scallops were barely breaded and cooked within the range if not the moment of proper timing. Still they were dry and boring, perhaps because that faint breading did not protect them from the ravages of the hot oil. The fried oysters were bitter and metallic-tasting, certainly not the quality of the raw oysters. Similar problems were served with the oysters rockefeller, which were small, overcooked and cloaked with an indifferent spinach topping.
If main dishes dip below expectation just after a broiled fish or raw oysters have led you to expect great things, it's a shallow dip. The food is by and large good. Soups have plenty of clams or crab or shrimp, or whatever they are meant to have, and their creamy base is studded with fresh vegetables. They are not great soups, but certainly good soups.
Dishes are not only generous, but handsome. Careful arrangements and verdant garnishes decorate each plate. One could complain about the plate of salad--pedestrian greens ladled with decent dressing but left untossed--or about the breads, which were flabby french rolls and mediocre sweet rum buns, but other details compensated.
For dessert, the waiters encouraged us to order cheesecake. It is a good choice, light and fluffy more in the style of Italy than New York, topped with fresh strawberry halves. Chocolate mousse, on the other hand, is gritty and cloyingly sweet, though again handsomely garnished, this one with shaved chocolate.
In any case, Falls Landing is an asset to its neighborhood. If one made a meal of the oysters and swordfish, or happened to strike right among the other seafoods, Falls Landing would be worth every one of the rollercoaster dips on the road from the Beltway.