- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 21, 2002

It's not always necessary to look to the new; old friends can be an unexpected pleasure. So it is with Sea Catch, on 31st Street NW in Georgetown's Canal Square, overlooking the C&O; Canal. The canal is dry just now, but the sun soon will be sparkling on a refilled waterway. When Washington's unpredictable weather permits, the long, narrow balcony will be decked with tables for delightful faux-rural meals in the heart of Georgetown.
For now, though, Sea Catch is serving indoors only. Lunch is served in the front room, with a bar running the length of the restaurant opposite a wall of tall, narrow windows with a view of the canal and warehouses beyond. A great stone double fireplace with a mantel resting on two beautiful short wooden pillars warms both the front room and a back room on a cold day.
The back room is open only in the evening and for special functions. Unlike the front room, it has tables covered with cloths. Each table in both rooms has a pretty orchid.
Service is particularly pleasant and helpful at both lunch and at dinner, the kind of discreet attention that makes a diner eager to return especially when the meal is as fine as what Sea Catch's executive chef, Jeff Shively (rhymes with "lively"), turns out. At dinner one evening, our waiter exchanged a glass of red wine without prompting when he noticed the requested wine was not satisfactory.
What sets the Sea Catch apart is the freshness of its seafood and the simple yet elegant preparation. The fish itself shines here, rather than the presentation. For example, the steamed shellfish sampler is a selection of oysters, clams and mussels served in a broth of white wine, garlic and parsley. It's a perfectly simple dish; the quality depends on the length of cooking. The timing was just right, so the shellfish remained plump and flavorful, all in their shells. The broth is delicate and tasty, with just the right balance of garlic and parsley. It's an ample portion, easily shared by two as an appetizer and large enough to be a luncheon main course.
Sauteed calamari are equally delicate and delicious. The calamari rings are tender, lightly cooked with white wine and sweet peppers, a refreshing change from the ubiquitous battered and deep-fried version. Again, this is a dish that can be shared easily.
The raw bar offers the usual seasonal oysters and clams on the half shell as well as steamed mussels and a "colossal" shrimp cocktail (priced by the piece). Clams also are served with a mango salsa and oysters "ceviche" with a spicy salsa topping.
Caesar salad made with crisp hearts of romaine is good, although the creamy, garlicky dressing lacks the tang of anchovies. It isn't an authentic Caesar, but a good alternative version.
Main courses concentrate on, but are not limited to, fish. They are divided into three categories. "Land Rover" dishes consist primarily of different cuts of beef but also include grilled chicken breast and a pork chop. The meats are served with a watercress salad, potatoes and a choice of bourbon steak butter or maitre d'hotel sauce (white wine and butter).
Salmon, swordfish, sea bass, flounder and mahi-mahi whatever is in season can be ordered simply grilled; the fish is served with rice and sauteed vegetables. Prices range from about $18 to $26, with a whole fish, which changes daily, at market price.
Jumbo grilled shrimp are delicious, slightly crisp on the outside, yet juicy and tender inside. They are served in a creamy, silken butter sauce. Unfortunately, the accompanying cauliflower and broccoli were undercooked. The small mound of rice, slightly too crunchy, was adequate but bland. The shrimp are so good that something a bit more complex would serve them better.
The third category of main courses are the Sea Catch specialties, which include Cajun seafood gumbo, sauteed sea scallops and grilled Shenandoah trout with lump crab, watercress and sweet corn. Shad and shad roe also are available now on the weekends a delicacy for the local clientele, rather than the out-of-town business travelers. Local soft-shell crabs will be in season in May and June.
Seared pepper-coated tuna is another marvelous dish. The tuna is of high quality and fork tender (slightly complicated by sinews running through the center of the tuna slices); the pepper coating gives both texture and body to the fish, which is served on a bed of sauteed leeks in a saffron sauce.
At lunchtime, the chef is equally successful with a grilled shrimp sandwich, which combines a mild, creamy goat cheese with roasted peppers and shrimp on excellent toasted bread. A small dish of olive tapenade is served on the side. It's a wonderful sandwich, highly recommended.
Hamburgers, a crab cake sandwich and a lobster sandwich are other lunchtime options. Crab cakes are among the chef's most popular dishes.
We chose to try the crab cake without the bread but with an aioli sauce and vegetable slaw. The crab cake was perfect, sauteed to a light golden color; the crab sweet and fresh. The garlicky sauce is an excellent foil for the crab meat. Only the slaw was a disappointment. Chunks of vegetables, rather than shredded or grated, were difficult to eat and lacked subtlety.
Desserts are made in-house and feature a daily special, often a fruit tart. A mango tart was not successful the tart tasted of refrigeration, and the overly sweetened mango that most delicate of all fruit flavors tasted more of peaches. On the other hand, a strawberry-and-mascarpone tart on another occasion was creamy and delicious without being overly sweet or rich.
Sea Catch has a nice wine list, with bottles ranging from the upper $20s to hundreds of dollars. Several foreign countries are represented and, of course, some of the best of California. Wines by the glass also are reasonably priced and varied.


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