Fish and calypso, taking center stage

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Riding the revitalization wave in Crystal City, Legal Sea Foods suddenly finds itself in a theater district of sorts with the Arena Stage troupe camping out around the corner for a few years while theater renovations occupy their downtown location.

With an extensive fresh fish menu jetted in from Reagan National Airport across the street, and a wine list of 24 varieties, the staff is ready for the influx of people on performance nights.

Were happy to have them, said Soline Simenauer, the assistant general manager. It feels like Im in a theater district.

Located on the corner of 23rd Street and Jefferson Davis Highway, a stones throw from National Airport and a slew of hotels catering to tourists and conventions, Legal Sea Food stays full a majority of the time. The menu keeps them coming back, too. There are appetizers ($8.95 – $23.95) surf, turf and beyond menu ($14.95-$40.95), Legal Lobsters (seasonally priced), a fish menu ($17.95-$21.95) and a land lubbers selection.

The lobsters are always fresh from the cold waters of the Atlantic, which enhances the flavor, and the crab dip is a popular favorite for those having a quick appetizer and a drink like the theatergoers. Anything crab-related in this region is so popular, she said.

The crab cakes ($25.95) are made of chunk crab meat held together with a sprinkling of crushed saltine crackers. It comes with a light leaf lettuce salad with walnuts and apple slice. Another favorite is the swordfish ($25.95) which comes in inch-thick steaks broiled in an herb vinaigrette dressing and topped with a red onion jam.

Even the signature dessert the Bananas Foster ($6.95) has a following. When the menu was downsized, Bananas Foster was taken off but continues to reappear from time to time for an encore. This dessert starts as a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream but a gravy boat on the side holds warmed caramel with rum and bananas for a delicious finale. We know back home to put a little bit of rum in everything we do, said Chef Stephen Charles, a native of St. Thomas in the Caribbean. A few more banana slices would be an improvement to this delectable.

There is a calypso aura floating around the restaurant. The front door opens to a bar area with two flat screen televisions, separated from the dining area by a half-wall. To the back is a big contemporary mural on the wall and a ceiling decoration that looks like the ribs of a fishing schooner. One wall is made entirely of windows that look out on busy 23rd Street, and the room is noisy but warm, exuding a certain energy.

Legal Sea Food got its start in 1904 when Harry Berkowitz opened the Legal Cash Market in Inman Square, Maine.

In 1950, his son George opened Legal Sea Foods fish market next door and now there are 30 restaurants on the east coast, including five in this area: Tysons Corner, inside Reagan National Airport, Crystal City, Bethesda and on 7th Street in Washington.

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