The Plutocrat

201 Massachusetts Ave. NE


Hours: 11:30 a.m. to midnight, Monday through Saturday.

Prices: Appetizers $2.50 to $5.95, sandwiches and salads $3.50 to $7.75, entrees $7.50 to $11.50 at lunch and dinner.

Cards: American Express, MasterCard and Visa. No separate nonsmoking area.

The name is a real puzzler, but the appeal of this cozy bar and restaurant near Union Station is clear: The barroom in front offers a cheery place to drink, hang out and eat clams, oysters and steamed shrimp; the small dining room behind offers good seafood and pub fare, reasonably priced in a casual atmosphere.

According to Webster's, plutocrats are members of a wealthy ruling class. We don't know what the owners' social plan is, but their pub appears to be striving to be nothing more than an inviting and unpretentious neighborhood place -- a real rarity in Washington.

The specialty here is seafood; the next best thing is the noodles. Though it advertises itself as "Mediterranean-American," it really is mostly American. The menu, the same at lunch and dinner, offers a raw bar -- with a selection of both raw and cooked seafood -- and some good American sandwiches, Mediterranean-style salads and a modest range of simple entrees.

The appetizer list is eclectic, including fried calamari (squid), mussels marinara, hummus and spicy chicken wings. The hummus ($2.50), a large portion served with wedges of pita bread, could have used more lemon juice and garlic to give it more of a kick. The squid ($4.25) made perfect nibbling -- a large portion, deep-fried, brown and nicely crunchy. A seafood gumbo, offered as a special one night ($1.50 a cup, $2.95 a bowl), was thick with vegetables and seafood but far more a soup than a flour-thickened gumbo.

The raw bar offerings are sold at half-price weekdays from 4 to 7 p.m. and, combined with a few cold drafts at the bar, might lead you to simply forget about dinner. Prices, of course, vary depending on the market but a few weeks ago were: raw oysters, 90 cents each; raw clams, 80 cents; steamed shrimp, $1.25; steamer clams, $4.25 a half-dozen.

Sandwiches, a neglected art form in Washington, are a featured attraction at the Plutocrat. The house burger ($3.95, $4.50 with cheese, $5.50 with bacon and cheese) was a thick, hand-packed burger, charbroiled to order and served on a sesame seed bun with a pile of french fries, a large slice of Bermuda onion, lettuce and tomato. The burger was above average; the fries with skins looked great but turned out to be soft and limp.

The fried oyster sandwich ($6.50) featured a satisfying contrast between a crispy batter-coated exterior and a mushy center and came with fries and a scoop of coleslaw. The slaw tasted homemade, combining shredded red cabbage, carrot slivers and a low-key poppy seed dressing.

A salade nicoise, though hardly traditional, was a nicely seasoned and satisfying mix of pasta shells in an herbed vinaigrette with tuna and Greek olive slivers.

Entrees include daily pasta and seafood specials as well as regulars: a grilled chicken breast, a crab cake platter, a fried shrimp platter, steak and eggs, and a strip steak. One special, mussels in a thick, tangy marinara sauce over linguine ($8.95), would have been fine but for a few over-ripe mussels. A similar special of mixed seafood and linguine ($9.95) tasted much fresher.

The crab cakes weren't large, but they were nicely seasoned, with bits of green pepper and fried to a deep brown. The platter ($10.75) came with fries and coleslaw.

Also available was a grilled fish of the day -- salmon at $10.50 or mahi-mahi at $7.95 one recent evening.

Desserts -- in the $3 range -- were good. We tried a strawberry "shortcake," which turned out to be a nice layer cake with creamy icing and strawberries stashed between the layers. There was also a rich and moist chocolate layer cake and a thickly frosted carrot cake. Our favorite of the three: the chocolate cake.

Decaf and regular coffee are available. So are a variety of premium beers and a decent selection of wines, considering the Plutocrat's size. Among the French offerings, a Duboeuf Beaujolais Regnie is $15 a bottle, a Cote du Rhone $12.50, a muscadet $11.50. California wines run from $12.50 for a Monterey Vineyards chardonnay to $28 for a chardonnay from Iron Horse.

The bar offers warm wood accents and a peek at the kitchen goings-on. The tiny, narrow dining room has plain white stucco walls and a spare decor. The atmosphere in both is relaxed and friendly. But when all the tables are filled, it can get noisy in the dining area, and on one busy Friday evening the lone waitress working the back seemed overwhelmed.

Our suggestion would be to get together a group of friends for an early evening outing and to crowd around a table in the back for some of the seafood and beer or a bottle of cold muscadet.