14 July 2007

Maryland is for Crabs

I found myself in the Washington DC area at the end of June for a mix of equal parts business and pleasure. While I grew up in Maryland, I haven't had many opportunities to return to the area after moving to the West Coast for graduate school; so I wanted to make the most of this trip, which from a food point of view meant eating as much Maryland Blue Crab within reason. There are many things I miss from Maryland living in LA, but the food thing I pine for the most are those wonderful crabs—Maryland Blue Crabs rule, but I'm bias, of course.

I was able to make good on my crab vow as soon as I landed. I took a noonday flight from Los Angeles that brought me into Washington at 9 PM Eastern Standard Time and with a hunger that hadn't been feed since breakfast. Now, I'm not a person that likes to eat too late. About 9/10-ish is the cut off unless I'm having a late night out for other reasons, but I was actually feeling too worn to unpack my suitcase when I got to my room unless I had some sustenance. I went down to the hotel lobby looking for anything that was open. The only place that was, was a bar lounge. Not the ideal place I was looking for, but it needed to do, so I founded the quietest corner possible in the a bar that was pumping dance music through its sound system and running four flat-screen television simultaneously on different channels.

bin 1700's crab cakes were a twist on typical crab cakes, but at least they used Blue Crab and a lot of it so there was more meat than bread filler in the cake—a must for any quality crab cake. I'm not exactly sure what the spiky string-like things they used to coat the crab cakes were; they tasted like some kind of starchy root vegetable, but at least they gave them a light crunch, although it wasn't substantial enough against the creamy filling to impart a significantly satisfying contrast of textures.

However, the hotel kitchen proved they could do traditional crab cakes fairly well when I was served them for dinner the next day, but since it was a meal I was eating with colleagues and recent acquaintances I didn't think whipping out a camera and taking pictures of food was the best way to make a good first impression—I have friends who still laugh at my food shutter bugging practice.

It would be five more days before I ate my next crab cake meal, but I did snack on them as appetizers in between. The first instance came at A. and N.'s wedding held on the lovely grounds of the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in the quaint colonial town of Winchester, VA. After the ceremony in the Rose Garden, we walked to another garden for cocktails where the flow of food and drinks began. Along with the bite-size crab cakes was a particularly tasty lamb croûte that I wish I could have gotten my hands on once more before having to walk to dinner.

Dinner began with a chunky chilled gazpacho served in a hollowed out tomato, which my table almost didn't get because the servers missed us. But thankfully E. was at my table, and being as passion about food as I, she wasn't about to let us go hungry and went into the catering area to alert the staff. The bits of pepper, cucumber, and tomato were tossed on the plate like confetti giving the dish a festive feel; it was a happy food start to a joyous occasion. The entrée was Surf-n-Turf served table side. The "Surf" was a lightly breaded Snapper and the "Turf" a grilled Beef Tenderloin. The beef was cooked particularly well, very tender, and nicely season so that it didn't really need the sauce that came with it. But the couscous provided somewhat of a challenge for our server as he lost control of those small grains and pushed them around the tray as much as he scooped them on his large spoon. There was also a chocolate buffet bar at the end of the meal, which made the chocolate lover in me so pleased that I saved room for it while I was eating the meal.

After the weekend in Virginia, I was finally in Maryland proper—vs. DC or Northern VA—Sunday evening. On my first night, I had dinner in Downtown Silver Spring—much changed in the pass several years. The area is home to the corperate headquarter of the Discovery Channel and across the way is a promenade with a movie multiplex, restaurants, and water fountain that children liked to play around.

P. and I went to Cubano's and ate a meal of calamari, Tostones with Ropa Vieja or fried green plantains with shredded beef, seafood paella, and flan. It was a lot food, especially the paella which went home in a doggy bag that fed P. for lunch the next day and a neighborhood cat the next night.

I don't order paella as much as I could considering how much I like it, but I've been consistently disappointed the last couple times I've eaten it that I've become shy about it, which is a shame. However, Cubano's paella renewed my faith so I'm more incline to give it a chance from now on. The rice was finely seasoned and cooked so it was tender without going to mush, and it was chockful of all sort of seafood—shrimp, squid, scallops, and clams—and spicy chrozio. It was hearty and comforting dish, something nice to linger over and savor with good wine and conversation, albeit I had mine with a mojito.

My next go at crab cakes came at a reception the following night at 701 in DC's Penn Quarter, and I popped a couple down along with a few buttery smoke salmon on toast and brushetta, but my most "serious", super-size crab cake would still be a day away, but oh was it worth the wait.

This lovely specimen of a traditional, no-nonsense crab cake was purchased at place on Rockville Pike so nondescript that I don't think the place had a name beyond the word "seafood" in neon on its door and a decorative fisherman's net and lifesaver tacked on the side of the light blue building. It was one of those places that fits perfectly the description, "only the locals know about", and I certainly would have missed it unless P. said in passing that his sister and brother-in-law sometimes picked up steamed crab there as we drove by on our way to dinner somewhere else. It only fishmonger and takeout place, but once I heard "crab", I made P. stop.

It only took them 10 minutes to cook the crab cake, which they took fresh from their case, but it's not the length of the time, but what they achieved in that time, a wonderful golden crust that contained the sweet crab meat, rich and dense, that was special. This crab cake was basically all I ate for dinner, although we did continue to our dinner destination.

Although I didn't get to visit every museum I wanted to while I was in DC, I managed to eat enough Maryland Blue Crab to make me happy thus making making it a pretty good trip.

bin 1700
1700 Jefferson Davis Hwy
Arlington, VA 22202
Ph: 703-553-5334

1201 Fidler Lane
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Ph: 301-563-4020

701 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington, DC 20004
Ph: 202-393-0701
Fax: 202-393-0242

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Blogger Andreea said...

what a feast!

7/25/2007 12:25 AM  
Blogger Blue Plate said...

yes, i ate well in dc, although there were a couple other restaurant i wanted to try, but i ran out of time. oh well, next time....

8/05/2007 2:14 AM  
Anonymous Julie said...

Some years ago I lived on the west coast for a couple of years and I spent my time there craving-- craving! -- blue crabs. Dungeness crab is fine but it's nowhere near as sweet and rich as blue crab.

What was the name of the place in Rockville? I need to check them out.

8/06/2007 1:45 PM  
Blogger Blue Plate said...

Hi Julie,

So true, Dungeness crabs have nothing on Maryland Blue crabs. I miss them desperately, along with the experience eating them by the bushel, steamed with Old Bay, during the summer. Sigh!

I've asked my friend for the address of the place in Rockville. I'll let you know....

8/06/2007 10:25 PM  
Blogger Blue Plate said...

Hello Julie,

Here's the name and address for the seafood place in Rockville:

Cameron Seafood Market
875 Hungerford Dr
Rockville, MD 20850

8/09/2007 11:04 PM  
Anonymous Julie said...

Thanks! I'll check them out next time I'm down that way.

8/13/2007 1:24 PM  

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