100 Best Restaurants 2008: Johnny’s Half Shell

No. 59: Johnny's Half Shell

Cuisine: Ann Cashion may have grown up in Mississippi and trained in France, but here her heart is in Maryland and New Orleans. Longtime staples such as Chesapeake seafood stew and crab imperial are still on the menu, but this past year—after giving up her stake in Cashion’s Eat Place in Adams Morgan—she’s embraced the Big Easy full bore, hiding fried green tomatoes in the seafood fritto misto and punching up a risotto with andouille sausage.

Mood: This seafood dining room, relocated a year ago from a smaller Dupont Circle space, is located in view of the Capitol, but instead of becoming a stuffy sanctum for buttoned-down pols, Johnny’s has remained a place where you can loosen your tie and kick back—at least in the main bar area and dining room, where a jazz soundtrack and brasserielike bustle keep spirits high. The offshoot rooms feel stark by contrast.

Best for: Unwinding after work or treating visitors to a quintessential Maryland crab cake.

Best dishes: Grilled chicken wings with tarragon-flecked Green Goddess dressing; dark, aromatic gumbo that’s a meal in itself; fried oysters with relish; a down-home version of gravlax with tequila in place of aquavit; a fried-oyster po’boy on an airy Leidenheimer roll; broiled crab cakes with fresh tartar sauce; classic crab imperial; fritto misto; blueberry-almond cake; house-made ice creams.

Insider tips: Graze on half-price appetizers and raw-bar selections during the popular weeknight happy hour, 4:30 to 7:30.

Service: ••

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