When we first walked up to Quincy's in the Safeway parking lot and saw its cutesy sign announcing that the restaurant isn't just Quincy's but "A Community Restaurant," we figured this would be another one of those contrived, self-conscious, mediocre pubs that seem to be popping up in shopping centers everywhere.
But Quincy's really is a valuable addition to the community. It's genuinely friendly, pretty and serves hefty portions of good food at decent prices.
The restaurant is small and quiet, with two dining rooms -- the Victorian, with dark wood panels, floral wallpaper and graceful chandelier, and the Californian, with blond wood, skylights and drooping plants. You can order fat hamburgers or a steak or club sandwich, but this restaurant is striving to become a solid new American restaurant that serves everything from snails and spiced shrimp to fresh tuna and crab cakes.
The clams casino are the best we've ever eaten -- exceedingly tender, sprinkled with minced vegetables and topped with smoky bacon and dripping with juice. If the waiter recommends them -- and so far we've had honest waiters who'll cheerfully say what's good and bad -- get a bucket of clams and mussels with nothing to hide them but butter.
Depending on your mood, you can order good snails with garlic butter or fried potato skins or a cup of chili -- spicy and worth ordering. A recent steamed artichoke was waterlogged, though, and the onion soup has been disappointing; a place like this should make homemade broth that doesn't taste like canned bouillon. The crab-stuffed mushrooms are pleasant. The mushrooms are big with lots of crabmeat but the mustard cream sauce is weak.
Quincy's hired a new chef about a year ago, and he clearly loves seafood: on most nights more than half the entrees are seafood, including the long list of changing specials. Perhaps his best dish is crab cakes -- two fabulous, monstrous crab cakes, thick as the thickest hamburgers, crisp as the crispiest crust, almost unadulterated except for the thinnest binding. Fresh whole fish have also been good, such as carefully cooked baby salmon.
We normally don't care for seafood combinations, because most kitchens can never cook all the ingredients just right. But Quincy's version, on a skewer, is excellent. It includes shrimp, meaty scallops, a chunk of fish, a couple of oysters, all nicely cooked: the waiter singes the seafood at your table over a ball of flame (a cotton ball soaked with rum). On the other hand, a recent Mediterranean seafood combination, a herculean portion of fish and shellfish on a smattering of noodles with tomato sauce, was dull.
We've been eating a lot of seafood lately -- it feels so light in the Washington heat -- but if you're yearning for meat, get steak au poivre, a tender sirloin with a mild green peppercorn bite. Avoid veal marsala, which on a recent night tasted as if it had been cooked with cheap booze, and the dried-out ribs.
The chef has been experimenting with a variety of Chinese-style stir-fried dishes, such as chicken chunks tossed with vegetables; the dishes look lovely but so far the seasonings are blah. But even when dishes don't work here, you get the feeling Quincy's is really trying. It's hard, for instance, to find other restaurants that prepare vegetables so carefully -- always crisp and bright.
And now, if you can eat any more, get a chilled cheesecake studded with chocolate chips or a ridiculously chocolatey brownie in hot fudge. Or a bowl of fresh berries.
On Fridays and weekends there's live music in the bar. Stick around, and you might hear a guitarist crooning your favorite songs.