15201 Shady Grove Rd., Rockville 258-9670 Hours: Lunch, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday; dinner, 5:30 to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday; closed Sunday. Prices: Most dinner entrees about $20. Cards: All major credit cards accepted.
Don't look for surprises at Harvey's. This is a seafood restaurant that revels in tradition, not trendiness. Even its relatively new outpost in Rockville faithfully prepares the same items that the original downtown Harvey's has been turning out for decades. And it continues to turn out most of the Harvey's menu very well, although we found a few isolated flops on a couple of recent visits.
The setting is men's club opulent, with dark, rich wood paneling, etched glass, candlelight, thick carpets. The prices are pretty opulent, too -- dinner for two with a modest wine runs about $85.
To begin with, the various oyster appetizers remain sensational. The oysters are top quality, and they're not fussed over too much. In the grilled version, they're simply done with butter, garlic, parsley and salt; as oysters casino, with bacon and diced sweet pepper; and as oysters Rockefeller (the most gently flavored of the three), they are topped with spinach.
Among the several soups, the she-crab is a complex winner, with big crab chunks, milk, a bit of cheese, a touch of tartness to cut the richness, and a splash of whiskey -- just enough to add flavor without dominating. New England clam chowder is a decent if unremarkable version, and the onion soup, although nicely flavored, suffers from mushy onions and too much salt. The anemic, underseasoned crab gumbo bears little resemblance to the genuine article.
Crab imperial has been one of Harvey's mainstays over the years, and with good reason. The immense crab lumps are snowy and firm, and they're seasoned with just enough caper-laced dressing to enhance their natural flavor. Stuffed in one of Harvey's impeccable fish dishes, the crab imperial does double duty: It's lovely in its own right and it lends contrast and interest to the subtle fish flavor. Have it with the beautiful trout, served whole but completely boned, in a little egg batter, and sauteed.
Oddly enough, some of Harvey's nonstuffed fish dishes disappoint. The fish is impeccably fresh, the portions are generous and the preparation flawless. But there's something lacking: Flavor. Harvey's plain broiled snapper, for example, boringly bland, makes you realize how important herbs and flavored butters are in coaxing out the best in a fish. The broiled salmon, served with a good hollandaise, is excellent, as is the unusually juicy swordfish, in a pleasant butter sauce.
Softshell crabs have been top-notch lately -- tiny, juicy, sauteed simply in butter so they're delicately crisp outside. But the crab cakes have been a letdown: Heavy, mushy and overhandled. That's quite a surprise after all the fine crab dishes. Fried shrimp has been a disappointment, too, dryish and dreary. At these prices, the letdowns are hard to take.
Vegetable side dishes remain very good. Look especially for the nicely rough-textured corn fritters served with honey, and the commendable popover potatoes. For dessert, forget the limp pies and weak-kneed mousse and head straight for the irresistible chocolate-covered strawberries.