Seamore’s Arlington market partner Topher Bertone-Ledford says the Chesapeake and its excellent seafood were the inspiration for debuting the small New York City chain in our area. “We thought for our first restaurant outside of New York, we wanted to come to a market where people understood and appreciated quality seafood,” he says.
Seamore’s opened in Clarendon in October. Chef Laurence Cohen works with the fishers of Maryland companies True Chesapeake Oyster Co. and J.J. McDonnell & Co. to source sustainable seafood for his kitchen. “As a chef, for years I called [suppliers] and said, ‘This is what I want,’” he says. “Now, I say, ‘What does the fisherman have for me?’ If Fisherman Carl says he has 200 pounds of snakehead he caught with a bow and arrow, we try to take as much of that as we can.”
The freshly caught fish the restaurant offers are depicted on a chic-looking, black-and-white chalkboard wall. The “Daily Landings” are marked with red spoons, hung next to drawings of the fish. It’s an approachable way to educate diners about the fish they are about to eat, says Bertone-Ledford.
Dining at Seamore’s can be a bit like dating someone because you respect their ethics. It feels good at first, but, ultimately, carnality will always win out. But if you order knowledgeably, the restaurant can fulfill your desires for both reason and appetite.
One dish ably covers both: The Reel Deal features a fish of the diner’s choosing and a collection of sides, along with a sauce. If you choose the daily catch, chances are that one of the more unusual fish — whether it’s oily Spanish mackerel from Key West or densely fleshy wild blue catfish caught in DC — will appear as part of the meal. The dish is iconic to Seamore’s customers in New York, and there’s plenty to like about it in Arlington, too.
The dish can be a gateway to new seafood experiences — or not. Besides the daily catch, you can choose blackened shrimp, Icelandic salmon, yellowfin tuna, or Montauk dayboat scallops as the centerpiece of your meal.
At times, when surrounded by fun fixings, the protein is just that. I quickly learned that the only thing more appealing to put on the kanpachi than blushingly spicy Thai red curry is South American–inflected ají with an unexpected burst of lemongrass. The seasonal sides I tried competed for their place as my favorite. Sautéed Swiss chard with garlicky sofrito nudged the comforting rutabaga-parsnip mash out of the way of the eventual winner: a pile of quinoa and black rice dotted with mushrooms and sweet, squirty grapes.
The Reel Deal may be the best entrée at Seamore’s, but it is not the best dish. That distinction belongs to the Virginia littleneck clams, a starter steamed in a lusty broth made of El Hefe Speaks beer from DC Brau Brewing Company. While much of the menu has been imported from New York, Cohen created this plate specifically for Arlington.
The take on pasta alle vongole subs in buttery, craving-inducing garlic bread for spaghetti and the beer — with coriander and banana notes — for white wine, but voluptuous slices of garlic keep the flavor on track. It’s more of an homage than an approximation; fat sprigs of thyme, as well as a lemony, mustardy body, make it a dish all its own. “I’ve seen people lift up the whole bowl and drink from it,” says Bertone-Ledford. No, he wasn’t talking about me. I ordered extra bread.
Another distinct starter in Arlington is a jar of bluefish pâté smoked by Ivy City Smokehouse. Cohen says he’s going for “an old-school Jewish deli” vibe with the dish, which he achieves with pumpernickel toast points and piles of fried capers, pickles, and chopped red onion, all ready to schmear with the dip. But the bluefish has a hint of a zip unusual for such a pâté. Along with cream cheese, it’s made spreadable with tangy goat cheese.
Not everything is as successful. Fish and chips came to my table with the center of the coating so raw that it oozed batter. My dining companion instead ordered what turned out to be a very decent double-patty bacon cheeseburger. The skinny fries on the side make it a worthwhile order for those less than enticed by seafood.
I was excited to try the scallop-and-sundried-tomato pasta but was met with overcooked gluten-free fusilli in a sauce that reminded me of dining in someone’s home — in a bad way. The scallops were fresh, but insufficiently seared. I understand why premium seafood, collected in an ethical manner, is expensive, but I still felt bilked paying $32 for a pasta dish of disappointing quality.
Luckily, there is always dessert. At Seamore’s there is typically only one sweet offered, although there are occasional specials. It might be tempting to run to the Tatte Bakery & Café location next door, but don’t. The churro ice cream sandwich is worthy of its “signature” status on the menu.
Composed of a pair of circular churros surrounding a scoop of salted caramel gelato, the dish resembles an oversize clam shell. The churros arrive hot and slightly doughy in the middle, with crisp ridges that slowly melt the gelato. A wide swipe of dulce de leche covers the plate — it’s a generous portion thereof, but never quite enough.
As Bertone-Ledford puts it, Seamore’s seeks to produce a visceral experience for diners. “We are not here to proselytize; we’re here to make sure you have a great experience and a fish taco,” he says.
Those who order what he recommends — which is available with seared or crispy fish and chipotle mayo — will be rewarded with both, and a feeling of virtue to boot. And that’s worth lifting a bowl of clams for.
Feature image by Rey Lopez
This story originally ran in our May issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to Northern Virginia Magazine.