August 2006 Best Bites

First Look: A Beach Hot Spot Hits the Big City

Six months ago, chef Kevin Reading took a calculated risk and opened–a knockoff of his Rehoboth Beach restaurant of the same name–on DC's Scott Circle.

Wedged in the lobby of a Courtyard Marriott, with a moss-and-purple-colored carpet that puts you in mind of a conference room, the place couldn't feel farther from the sea. But where the Rehoboth original seems as though it's trying too hard to be sophisticated, its DC sibling comes across as earnest and eager to please.

Past fluttering red capiz shells and a blackboard of cocktail specials, a bouncing waiter launches into a rhapsody on the chilled sweet-pea-and-mint soup. He's right

–it's a smooth, summery swirl dressed with a little crème fraîche. The crab cakes come in generous mounds accented by succotash and tomato jam. Sea scallops, seared and sweet, come with fennel salad and fennel risotto.

But apart from these dishes, Reading isn't one for simplicity. Many plates–like a grilled halibut with lobster, yellow carrots, fried polenta, and a few too many ladles of gazpacho–are overgilded. A few dishes get tagged signature item on the menu. They should have an asterisk that reads red flag. Oysters baked with Asiago cheese, spinach, and mushrooms bring to mind a can of Campbell's cream of mushroom. The lobster sandwich is loaded with mayo-drenched salad made from the knuckle

–the stringy meat just below the claw. Seafood à la Nage, with its abundance of lobster, mussels, and scallops, is billed as "swimming in a lobster-saffron broth," but the dish's liquid tastes more like water than anything else.