Passed down through crabbing families along the Chesapeake, local MD lore says that if Testudo the Terrapin emerges from his Maryland dormitory and sees his shadow, it's six more weeks until soft-shell season. Or we just made that up, and it's actually soft-shell season now, which is why we've put together a crawl of the best restaurants in the city to take down those pinching b*stards and hopefully spread our made-up legend to gullible tourists from Kansas. Stop #1: KAZ Sushi Bistro 1915 I St NW; 202.530.5500 The Japanese small plate hot spot does two soft-shells: one with Brussels sprouts and a carrot vinaigrette, and another that's tempura'd and topped with ponzu sauce. Also, seaweed. Also, dried bonito flakes. Als -- you know what? Just get this one.
Stop #2: Equinox
818 Connecticut Ave NW; 202.331.8118
Day or night, Todd Gray and company are sautéing up Eastern Shore soft-shells and adding English sweet pea puree, minted tomato butter, and Spotsylvania sunflower shoots, which totally don't sound made-up.
Stop #3: Woodward Table
1430 H St NW; 202.347.5353
Now, make your way over to the newest spot from the Vidalia & Bistro Bis crew, who're doing a special soft-shell BLT w/ Benton's bacon, Boston lettuce, tomato, and Old Bay aioli.
Stop #4: DC Coast
1401 K St NW; 202.216.5988
Now that you've definitely walked off those first three crabs, you'll want to get involved with Coast's Mini Tower of Crab, which just may require a tiny construction crew and miniature crane to help you pick apart the crisp soft-shell, jumbo lump crab cake, pickled okra & corn relish, and Tabasco lemon butter.
Stop #5: Occidental Grill & Seafood
1475 Pennsylvania Ave NW; 202.783.1475
Considering it's half grill and half seafood, the OC better do a soft-shell right, and, luckily, they do: sauteed jumbo soft-shell with haricots verts, shallots, and an Asian pear/grenadine coulis.
Stop #6: The Hamilton
600 14th St NW; 202.787.1000
Before your next show downstairs, grab a quick Spider Roll w/ soft-shell crab tempura, spicy Napa cabbage, and cucumber upstairs. Then look at yourself in the mirror and confidently assure your image that you can take down just one more crab.
Stop #7: Bibiana Osteria & Enoteca
1100 New York Ave NW; 202.216.9550
Your grand crab finale comes courtesy of the Italians, with a pair that's served in a tomato-shellfish puree and hit with a bit of Olio Santo olive oil.
1. Kaz Sushi Bistro1915 I St NW, Washington
2. Equinox818 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington
3. Woodward Table1430 H St NW, Washington
4. DC Coast1401 K St NW, Washington
5. Occidental Grill & Seafood1475 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington
6. The Hamilton600 14th St NW, Washington
7. Bibiana Osteria & Enoteca1100 New York Ave NW, Washington
Downtown's Kaz has been slinging sushi rolls to DC's political elites since 1999 -- no surprise, given its walking distance from The White House. Its minimally decorated space is great for dates because most of its tables seat two directly across from one another, making for top-notch one-on-one time. The food ain't bad either (ok, that's a serious understatement): modern takes on Japanese sushi rolls with snapper, yellowtail, and the like are matched with plates of steaming hot steaks and vegetables.
Not to be confused with the chain of gyms Kanye made famous, Equinox is James Beard Award-winning Chef Todd Gray's mid-Atlantic culinary experiment, where upscale plates with minimalist presentation are served without pretension. As elegant as the white-tablecloth setting is (it's practically neighbors with the White House, after all), the service and plates aren't snobby, only inventive. The menu's dominated by locally sourced seafood courses like BBQ salmon filet, roasted redfish, and pistachio-crusted tout, plus a smattering of chicken, pasta, and vegan options.
Housed inside the historic Woodward Building, the elegant Woodward Table boasts an expansive dining room and bar warmed by a hearth oven, which churns out rustic plates of artisan flatbreads, house-made charcuterie, roasted shrimp, and cast-iron skillet corn bread. It's hard to resist those comforting options, but the menu also features refined American dishes like potato-crusted Alaskan halibut and cider-braised pork shank, plus chicken & waffles and croque madame at brunch. Adjacent to the restaurant is Woodward Takeout Food (lovingly abbreviated to WTF), a counter-serve offering a huge selection of homemade baked goods, signature sandwiches, soups, and salads.
This haute-American spot specializes in local (East Coast, that is) and seasonal seafood.
Dine on fresh fishes amongst portraits of Washington's who's-who at this classy White House-adjacent seafoodery.
Within walking distance of the White House itself, this traditional American eatery blends upscale-casual dining with live music. There’s a noticeable maritime focus on the menu, as regulars salivate over popular plates like jumbo lump crab cake, gingerly plated over a swoop of vibrant zucchini puree or available as a sandwich with fries and slaw. The decor blends modern tastes with Belle Époque flair (think mahogany woodwork interspersed by framed contemporary artwork, lit by art nouveau-inspired chandeliers), but the vibe is casual and unpretentious, making it a worthy outing for locals and visitors alike.
This awe-worthy spot by Franklin Square sits comfortably at the heigh of luxury with 120 seats sitting amidst a Milano-inspired design with glass artwork, soft lighting, and black leather/dark, polished wood accents. Prices are going to be a little higher than your average Italian joint, but you're paying for what you get -- house-made pasta dishes, grilled, seasonal fishes, chicken, and duck along with a handful of (what else) artisan, wood-fired pizzas.