Jonah's Oyster Kitchen
Hyatt Regency Washington Hotel
400 New Jersey Ave. NW
Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Dinner 6 to 11 p.m. every day.
Prices: Lunch appetizers $5.50 to $12.50, entrees $7.50 to $14.95. Dinner appetizers $6.95 to $13.50, entrees $14.95 to $22.95.
Credit Cards: All major.
Nonsmoking area in dining room.
There's been a menu makeover at one of Capitol Hill's posher dining spots, but if you've been there before, you'll see little that's new or different at Jonah's Oyster Bar at the Hyatt Regency Washington.
As a waiter explained, several dishes are holdovers from earlier times. Similarly, the decor has changed little, if at all.
But this is still a nice place to take parents or visiting in-laws for a fancy night out, or to entertain your clients on someone else's tab.
The food is well prepared in what is best described as continental-American style, featuring large portions and lots of butter and cream. The decor is a pleasant mix of nautical items and dark wood, though there are some surprising lapses -- no tablecloths, for instance.
Despite its good intentions, there's still something about Jonah's that keeps reminding you that you're eating in a hotel restaurant. And for seafood in an elegant setting, you could probably do better -- at about the same price -- at many downtown restaurants.
Not that we didn't enjoy Jonah's, whose strength is its breadth of seafood offerings: a wide range of oyster and clam dishes, fancy seafood preparations and numerous daily catches. There is also a small selection of steaks, chicken and, at lunch, hamburgers.
The place lives up to its oyster bar name with a display of iced shellfish to the right of the entryway. Raw oysters cost $1.50 apiece, the clams and shrimp a little less. There is also a sushi and sashimi plate -- offered as a salad at lunch for $10.95 or as an appetizer at dinner for $12.95.
Also offered as appetizers are several cooked shellfish dishes, including steamed oysters and clams as well as oysters Rockefeller and fried squid, both new on the menu. We tried a new variation called Oysters Chesapeake ($9.95 at dinner, $9.50 at lunch), which turned out to be six plump baked oysters heaped with hollandaise sauce. Buried under the sauce along with the oysters were morsels of chopped tomato and crab meat. The combination was good, but we couldn't help thinking the parts were better than the whole.
There are several seafood soups, including clam chowder, gumbo, oyster stew and shrimp bisque. A cup of the bisque ($3.50 at lunch, $3.75 at dinner) was creamy, rich and very satisfying. It was infused with shrimp flavor and contained perhaps a half-dozen tiny shrimp.
Jonah's salad ($3.95 at lunch, $4.95 at dinner) was large for a side dish but too small for a meal. It featured a nice selection of lettuces, purple cabbage, olives, radicchio, tomatoes, cucumber, carrot and, somehow incongruously, shredded cheddar cheese.
Dinners come with side plates of crisp cooked vegetables doused with butter. Children's portions are available at half price.
For meat eaters, we would recommend the filet mignon ($16.95 at dinner only), which was cooked as ordered, tender and particularly lean.
A Maryland crab cake platter ($14.95 at lunch, $19.95 at dinner) consisted of two medium-large crab cakes with generous lump crab meat and very little breading, very mild seasoning and tiny chunks of sweet green pepper. At dinner, by the way, Jonah's offers a Side by Side ($19.95), pairing filet mignon and a crab cake.
If you like your shrimp adorned, there's the Baked Stuffed Shrimp Lorenzo ($13.95 at lunch, $20.95 at dinner), consisting of two huge, meaty shrimp stuffed with crab meat and spinach and covered with a creamy sauce. We found the new dish rich and very filling.
The Seafood Pot ($14.95 at lunch, $21.50 at dinner) was a spare dish of seafood in broth, a far cry from a bouillabaisse. There was a reasonable amount of seafood, but the dish as a whole was boring and without any definitive seasoning.
Jonah's strongest selling point is its unembellished fresh fish offerings. At both lunch and dinner, the kitchen will prepare whatever fish is on hand -- poached, baked, broiled, sauteed or blackened. On our visits, the daily specials included salmon, tuna, swordfish, red snapper and halibut. The prices vary according to market, so ask about prices before you order.
Jonah's pastry tray includes such standards as cheesecake and pecan pie. Coffee is $1.50 a cup.
There is a well-chosen but modest selection of wines by the bottle. Most are more than $20.