L&N Seafood

12266 Rockville Pike

Rockville

230-1952

Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Dinner 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 4 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Prices: Most dinner entrees $10 to $15.

Credit Cards: All major cards accepted.

Here's an excellent seafood restaurant, part of a growing chain that stretches from Florida to Pennsylvania. (The Rockville outlet, newly opened, is the first in Maryland; there are several L&N's in the Virginia suburbs.)

The menu is pretty simple -- traditional fare such as grilled fish, fried or broiled shellfish and crab cakes -- but everything is impeccably fresh, most dishes are prepared very well and the ancillary items are outstanding. This is by no means a bargain seafood house, but it gives solid value for your money. And it's a nice-looking place, quiet, softly lighted, with cozy, comfortable booths.

A fine appetizer is the fresh-tasting calamari, lightly fried in a delicate batter. The clam dip is just as impressive, almost solid with clams and scallions and served with fried wonton chips. The soups have been first-rate too, including a lively, peppery clam chowder with lots of clam and a surprisingly good gumbo with a nice blend of seafood and sausage flavors. The egg rolls are pleasant enough, with tiny shrimp and crunchy vegetables in the filling, and the fried zucchini is heavily battered but passable.

Dinner is preceded by exemplary biscuits, light in texture, nicely flaky, slightly sweet, with a crisp, crusty bottom. And there's an excellent salad that comes with complimentary refills and is well-tossed with a tasty buttermilk dressing.

Grilled fresh fish, listed daily on a blackboard at the door, is a specialty, and deservedly so. Even the swordfish, generally too dry in restaurants, is succulent, and the portions are ample. A particularly nice idea is the "mixed grill," a sampler of three varieties of grilled fish.

The crab cakes are outstanding, arguably among the best in the area. They're remarkably light and airy, gently spiced but not bland, with an impressive proportion of lump meat in the mixture. The broiled combination platter is very good, with a thick, firm fish fillet, meltingly tender scallops and, at least on the night we tried it, surprisingly dry, tough shrimp. The fried shrimp, on the other hand, were excellent, as were the skewered grilled shrimp. But the stuffed shrimp, covered with an unpleasant ooze of a cheese sauce, need to go back to the drawing board.

Four of the six seafood-pasta combinations are made with cream sauces. Judging from the one we tried -- a grilled salmon with fettuccine, nearly afloat in too much of a too-rich sauce -- we would suggest sidestepping them. But the non-creamed pastas are worth a try. The linguine with white clam sauce is very good, with plenty of fresh minced clam and a nice broth of olive oil, fresh parsley, garlic and a bit of parmesan. (If they would ease up on the amount of oil, the dish would be even better.) There also is a lobster and scallop fra diavolo that's probably a solid bet.

Desserts have their ups and downs. The apple pie is excellent, with big, firm chunks of apple and a lovely cinnamon-crumb topping. The banana-coconut and pecan pies are just as good. But forget the ordinary-tasting chocolate cakes.