- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 25, 2002

What do you get when you combine Washington's lovely waterfront, a gorgeous 3,000-gallon saltwater fish tank, unspeakable noise, the relentless thump thump thump of bad rock music and good food? The new Washington Harbour Club Restaurant & Lounge at 3000 K Street on the Potomac waterfront in Georgetown.
It's difficult to give due attention to the quality of the food when the distractions surrounding a meal are as overpowering as they are at the Washington Harbour Club. To begin with, the formal dining room, aside from the fish tank glowing with brightly colored tropical fish, is cold and unattractive, with ugly white, faux-leather chairs, industrial carpeting, bare walls, ceiling lighting that fluctuates in strength and low ceilings that give a diner the impression of being seated in a basement rumpus room. No flowers or soft touches of color, other than blue and green, are visible except in the fish tank.
The 50 varieties of tropical fish are gorgeous: electric blue, blue with orange tips, bright yellow, black with yellow markings, silvery green, black and white stripes (perhaps escapees from a fish prison?), gray with large white polka dots. But the darting colors in the tank are not enough.
The noise level is another drawback. The low ceiling traps the voices and raucous squeals of laughter at the surrounding tables and the music. Raised voices from the lounge area and cafe next to the dining room, combined with an occasional accidental pulsating fire alarm with flashing strobe light, makes dining a nervous experience.
The cafe, which fronts the restaurant and has floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the fountain, serves the same food but is even noisier.
The quality of chef Weerapon "Wee" Ouyporn's expertise is easy to overlook in these circumstances. Mr. Ouyporn, who worked at the Palm on 19th Street NW for 13 years, incorporates Thai touches into many of his preparations. He uses first-class ingredients, and dishes are cooked to order although everything we tasted came to the table barely lukewarm.
The menu is replete with delicious offerings. Appetizers include salmon and corn chowder, a simple artichoke with lemon butter, ceviche of tilapia, grilled calamari, a summer roll of vegetables, shrimp and cellophane noodles wrapped in rice paper, and a skewer of beef, onions, peppers and tomato.
An outstanding starter is crab Rangoon, a pretty presentation of four semi-crisp wanton wrappers tied with a string of spring onion on a bed of sweet and quite spicy sauce. The wrappers enclose a wonderfully creamy mixture of crab and cream cheese. It's a substantial portion and could easily be shared by two diners. Had the dish been a little warmer, it would have been truly superb.
A salad of hearts of palm topped with pimento and marinated onions in a light vinaigrette sauce is pleasant and refreshing on a summer evening.
Main courses offer a choice of 10 fish dishes or an equal number of meat preparations. Three crab cakes are small rounds of excellent crabmeat with barely any filling, centered on a mound of julienned vegetables. The menu describes the sauce surrounding the crab cakes as "basil-pepper," but there was no evidence of basil in the bright-red sauce, and the taste was of conserved tomato rather than pepper.
A dish of sea scallops was carefully prepared and presented, although again not quite as it was described on the menu. Rather than the browned shallot butter expected, the scallops were topped with melted cheese. The mollusks were delicious, despite their unusual topping.
Seafood lovers can also choose from seared tuna with ginger soy sauce, soft-shell crabs, poached halibut, peppered swordfish, broiled salmon or jumbo shrimp in a garlic and white-wine butter sauce.
Meat fares equally well. A 10-ounce rib veal chop (initially served room temperature and returned for a hot version) was a first-rate thick, juicy and tender piece of meat, accompanied by boiled and then lightly sauteed potatoes and string beans. Similarly, a filet mignon was good-quality beef. The thick filet is napped with a demi-glace brown sauce and topped with a mild Roquefort cheese sauce. It's a good, if not outstanding, dish.
The menu offers numerous cuts of beef, such as a Kansas City strip, a blackened rib-eye, New York strip and roasted prime rib, as well as lamb chops and chicken breasts.
Classic desserts, although not made in-house, are worth trying. We particularly liked the derby pie, a Louisville speciality during Kentucky Derby week. It's a cousin of pecan pie, although not quite as sweet, and here made with walnuts and chocolate instead of pecans and served with a dollop of vanilla ice cream.
Harbour Club's lunch menu has many of the dinner items at lower prices, as well as entree salads of ahi tuna, sliced sirloin steak, blackened Thai shrimp, lobster or chicken salad and a number of sandwiches: crab cake, chicken po' boy, lobster and portobello mushroom. A soft-shell crab sandwich on an onion brioche with french fries is particularly appetizing.
Our waitress did her best to take good care of us, but she was overwhelmed by the number of tables under her care. Harbour Club charges downtown prices; for that amount of money, diners should not have to wait more than half an hour for an entree, which then arrives cold. Promising, but there's room for improvement here.


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