- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 2, 2005

The renovation of Kinkead’s hasn’t changed Bob Kinkead’s flagship restaurant on Red Lion Row on Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s still the same bustling bistro with a friendly bar and a few tables and booths downstairs and the main dining room facing the open kitchen upstairs. What’s missing is the master himself.

Once very visible with his walkie-talkie, keeping in contact with his staff, he supervised everything that went on in the kitchen and every plate that went to every table.

Mr. Kinkead presides now over a small culinary empire. It includes Kinkead’s, Colvin Run Tavern at Tysons Corner, and Sibling Rivalry, a new restaurant in Boston that he runs with his brother. His new cookbook incorporates many of his best and favorite recipes. On my several recent visits, he was noticeably absent, working either at one of the other restaurants or on a book tour. Kinkead’s is still a splendid restaurant, but no longer a spectacular one.

The raw bar is one of the chief attractions at Kinkead’s. Half a dozen different kinds of oysters from Prince Edward Island to Washington state can be ordered by the piece for about $2 each or as samplers of six or 12 (chef’s choice). Littleneck and cherrystone clams are offered by the dozen or half dozen. Jumbo shrimp cocktails are served by fours. For $99, two or more diners can order a Grand Selection of steamed lobster, crabmeat, shrimp, clams, mussels and a selection of oysters.

Kinkead’s has always been primarily a fish restaurant. In recent years, however, the other offerings have diminished so that just two meat dishes remain — one of them the ubiquitous filet mignon — among the main courses. If you don’t like fish or shellfish, Kinkead’s is not your place. Try Colvin Run Tavern.

A generous crab cake makes an excellent beginning or even a small entree. The cake is made with lump crabmeat and virtually no filler; it’s covered with buttery crumbs and pan fried. The crab cake is served with a mustard creme fraiche, which tastes like a tangy white remoulade, fresh corn relish and two nicely pickled okra pods. This is as good as crab cakes get.

Another fine appetizer is a combination of salmon tartare and smoked salmon, served sometimes with cucumber salad and on other occasions with a delicious paper-thin red beet carpaccio. The pinks and red are particularly fetching on the plate.

Salads are light and well-dressed in subtle vinaigrettes. A salad of young lettuce leaves is topped with grated Gruyere cheese and adorned with thin slices of red radishes. A roasted pear with Gorgonzola, radicchio, endive and walnuts in a port wine dressing is fine.

A perfect starter without fish is a dish of wild-mushroom ravioli topped with a lemon truffle butter sauce. The ravioli melt in the mouth, and the filling of chopped mushrooms is deliciously woodsy and fragrant.

Our waiter told us that the most popular dish is the pepita-crusted salmon with crab, shrimp, corn and chili ragout. Perhaps. We chose instead a springtime special of walnut-crusted skate. The nut crust was so thick that it completely overpowered the fish. An accompanying cauliflower flan could not have been more delicate or more delectable.

Grilled sea scallops, served with couscous, grilled eggplant rounds and a yogurt sauce disappointed. The scallops were mushy and tasteless, overwhelmed by a tangy tomato-based sauce with tiny slices of garlic. The dish had too many diverse elements, which did not complement one another.

Equally unsuccessful on a recent night was a dish of roasted ham, which was more like tough pork roast. The sides of corn-bread dressing, celery-root puree and poached prunes, on the other hand, were excellent, but the dish could not be saved. Chicken is usually an alternative to the selections from the sea.

Kinkead’s regular offering of fish without crust is simply grilled, with vegetables and a relish. These usually are salmon and tuna.

The restaurant has a wide range of fish appetizers and main courses, and many change daily. Wood-grilled squid, fried clams, Yucatan-style tuna soup, and steamed clams always tempt the appetite. Brioche-crusted flounder or halibut, pepper-crusted rare tuna, walnut-crusted snapper or soft-shell crabs (in season) are seafood specialties. For the fish lover, Kinkead’s is the ticket.

The bar and cafe menu includes soups, salads and lighter fare, such as fried Ipswich clams, lobster roll and fish and chips. Kinkead’s luncheon menu includes several of its classic starters and soups, the simply grilled fish, and a few seafood specialties, such as Parmesan-crusted salmon medallions, soft-shell crab and a Portuguese seafood stew.

Desserts are rich and tasty and include a trio of creme brulee, raspberry cheesecake tart with passionfruit mousse, strawberry rhubarb charlotte and a sampler of chocolate banana desserts.

Dinner is enhanced by a pianist entertaining with good jazz in the downstairs bar, but it’s difficult to hear the melodies upstairs.

The wine list is carefully selected and extensive, with many good wines by the glass, including a selection of Virginia wines. Service is professional and competent, if not particularly attentive. Bob Kinkead, you spoiled us with perfection (or close to it). Come home. We need you.

RESTAURANT: Kinkead’s, 2000 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, 202/296-7700

HOURS: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday through Friday; dinner 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday

PRICES: Starters $8 to $16 (lunch), $9.50 to $17 (dinner); entrees $16 to $24 (lunch), $23 to $30 (dinner); desserts $8.50 to $11

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards.

PARKING: $5 dinner valet parking; limited street parking

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible.

METRO: Farragut West

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