It's common for the quality to vary from dish to dish in a restaurant, but at E.J.'s Landing, a good-looking seafood restaurant in College Park's Maryland Inn, we found the ups and downs positively dizzying, with some dishes excellent and others poor. So your happiness here will depend to an extraordinary degree on what you choose.
This is an attractive place, with an inviting little raw bar, an inner dining room graced by exposed brick and light woods and -- even nicer -- a skylight room overlooking the hotel's indoor swimming pool.
The service is friendly, if sometimes slow, with prices about average for seafood restaurants. Dinner certainly starts on a high note, with baskets of excellent homemade bread, and the appetizers are mainly top-notch. Clams casino, for example, are exemplary: the clams fresh and plump, the bread crumbs spiked with garlic, the bacon not overdone.
Spiced shrimp are good, too, if less peppery than most, and the mini-crab cakes are very impressive: not over-handled, and quickly fried in the thinnest, lightest of batters. Although we didn't try them, the entree-size crab cakes are a likely winner too. Mushrooms stuffed with crab imperial are excellent, and so the crab imperial entree would probably be a good choice.
With other entrees, you have to tread more gingerly. Perhaps the best bet is the sauteed shrimp and scallops, a generous portion of good seafood in a simple, light, nicely garlicky sauce with fresh tomato, green pepper and lemon. Scallops Harvey swamps very good scallops in a gloppy, overthick cream sauce doused with sherry, and the catch of the day -- a perfectly fresh grouper when we tried it -- was dried out from too much time under the heat.
Fried oysters, fresh and briny, should have been excellent, but they were encapsulated in one of the thickest, hardest cocoons of a batter that we've encountered. E.J.'s steamer, an assortment of steamed seafood, sounds like a fine idea, but what we were served was dried out beyond redemption, with the snow crab legs so desiccated that the meat inside the shell had been reduced to nearly all fiber. Again, the problem didn't lie in the raw materials -- all were irreproachably fresh -- but in the preparation of the dish.
Uphill again with the ancillary items: lively, fresh vegetables; slaw that's neither over-wet nor over-sweet; good steak fries; pleasant salads.
The roller coaster effect continues with dessert. Avoid the mundane pecan pie and chocolate cakes and aim for the good, moist carrot cake or, even better, the formidable raisin-walnut cake.
College Park certainly needs more good restaurants, and E.J.'s Landing should be welcomed for the dishes it does well. But order carefully.