Delectable Pieces / Amanda Lenk – River view, fresh seafood and great service at McCormick and Schmick


So what do you think of National Harbor? asked Executive Chef Robert Gellman on the first day of service at the new McCormick and Schmicks Harborside in National Harbor. He continued, I understand this was once a big hill, now its not exactly natural. Ever eat in Manhattan? What follows is a brief autobiography Gellman opened the P. J. Clarkes at Lincoln Center in NYC but has some culinary roots in New Orleans, he plays the guitar, is a fan of the band Widespread Panic and is, in my opinion, quite cute and full of a distinct and intelligent personality.

I learn from talking to Gellman that a McCormick & Schmicks Chef has control over approximately 35 to 40 percent of the menu at his restaurant. Walk into any McCormick & Schmicks in the country and youll find a mix of the familiar and the unique. Always fresh, the food here is both local and national, the byproduct of both a brand and the expression of a unique sensibility. In other words, it is both natural and constructed; it is a perfect fit for National Harbor or any of the other cosmopolitan areas McCormick and Schmicks operates in that it is both built and evolving.

In sparkling glass in shades of clear and clearer, National Harbor takes shape along the far wall of McCormick & Schmicks Harborside. The profiles of the buildings and the outlines of the docks are clearly recognizable in the textures of the art glass installment. It is a subtle and beautiful representation of a place that is becoming more and more familiar, and its lightness, its multifaceted quality, is perfectly placed in this restaurant, itself a more light-filled version of McCormick & Schmicks well-known brand.

McCormick & Schmicks Harborside opened in National Harbor on Monday. With a giant inflatable crab reaching yearningly from the roof toward the Potomac and a renegade chef with big city credentials and a bayou sensibility settling into the kitchen, this, our areas newest location in the quickly growing restaurant group, promises all that one expects from a McCormick & Schmicks a variety of exceptionally fresh seafood delivered daily and prepared with skill, a classic interior, well trained service but with a modern flair and, if Gellman has anything to do with it, a little more rockin mojo than one might expect from the venerable seafood house (think Mahi Mahi with sweet potato crabmeat hash and barbeque butter.)

Gellman certainly has the stage to create something exceptional in the Harborside. The restaurant is located facing the river in the section of National Harbor closest to the water taxi that runs to Alexandria and back, and its outdoor dining space hovers above the Awakenings massive arms. Inside, the color and texture of the restaurant is thoroughly McCormick & Schmicks. Greens and warm wood tones prevail, but the dominant feel is more luminous and open than is typical of most McCormick & Schmicks because of the conscious relationship with the riverscape there is not a seat in the restaurant that is not touched by natural light and to the busy, public nature of the plaza outside its doors.

The opening of McCormick & Schmicks Harborside brings personality to the waterfront of National Harbor. Standing in the outside dining area on a beautiful day looking westward to Alexandria one feels how popular this spot will be; I get a little jolt when I think of how long the wait will be for an outdoor table on an evening with a great sunset. Is it fear or anticipation? Maybe its just a little heat rolling out of Gellmans kitchen.