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Business Dinner with Maryland blue crab?

I just moved from DC (boo) but am coming back for business (yay!). I need to plan a business dinner for 5, including one very demanding person. Since we are in DC, he believes we should have some "Chesapeake bay blue crabs" as his family lived in Maryland in the 1800s. (note: he is generally demanding, not just on this issue, which makes this all the more annoying!)

I called DC Coast and they have soft shell crab on the menu, and Elisir has an entree with soft shell crab. Any other thoughts for how I can please this person? I need a reasonably formal restaurant, but not too over the top. For example, Brasserie Beck is too casual, Marcel's is too formal.

Thanks for your help!

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  1. Did he specify soft shell crabs? Because eating hard-shelled crabs is a very messy proposition and not the kind of thing you would do for a business dinner, unless you work in a very relaxed, cool, together company where people enjoy letting their hair down and hanging out with one another.

    No restaurant with hard shelled crabs is going to be reasonably formal. They are going to have picnic tables covered with brown paper and wooden mallets and pitchers of beer.

    I gather you want to be downtown? Have you considered crab cakes as opposed to soft shells? I ask because a whole lot of people are very squeamish about eating soft shell crabs which kind of look like fried giant spiders.

    1. Nam Viet? It's a different take on soft shells, though.

      1. Crabcakes! Made from blue crabs, but free of the crab pickin' mess...

        Maybe someone can suggest a place with good ones.

        1. The Prime Rib in Baltimore is part of the True Blue program meaning they only use Maryland blue crab in their dishes. They serve some of the best jumbo lump crab cakes, Imperial crab and soft shells that you will ever have. If this place doesn't satisfy your demanding companion I can't help him.

          6 Replies
          1. re: CDouglas

            But it is in Baltimore - an hour or so drive from DC. OP doesn't say where in DC they will be or if they will have a car. Wherever they go, he/she really ought to call ahead to be sure they will have crab cakes on that particular evening and set some aside for his group.

            I'm not one to recommend Kinkead's as I think it is overpriced, but in Feb.2012, the Washington Post put his crabcake on the best list. Description: Bob Kinkead knows how to make a crab cake: Never deep-fried, the meat is mixed with mayonnaise and seasoned with celery, tarragon, lemon and just a pinch of bread crumbs to hold it together. A rich mustard creme fraiche sauce and fresh corn relish pairs nicely with the sweet meat.

            Now to me that isn't the way a crabcake should be made, but not everyone is a purist. I guess it depends how long you've lived here and how many phenomenal nothing-but-backfin-and-eggwhite crab bombs (Jerry's Seafood) you've had. DC Coast also got the nod: Minimalism is the watchword of this crab cake. The recipe calls for Gulf of Mexico crab with just a pinch of bread crumbs, a little mayonnaise, mustard, egg, lemon and chives, and a dash of Tabasco sauce and cayenne pepper for a tickle of heat. The crab is all jumbo lump, but the cakes hold together thanks to a nice, crisp exterior.

              1. re: Hue

                The Lanham location is not a good idea. It is very small and they don't take reservations and there is no place to wait inside. You end up standing in a dreary parking lot in a dreary little strip shopping center.

                The Bowie location is very attractive, lots of tables, plenty of space to wait inside. The crab bombs are incredible and all the food is always very fresh and good.

                However, if they don't have a car, no way to get there.

                1. re: Just Visiting

                  For a business dinner with fellow coworkers I would pick a place in DC proper either DC Coast, or Prime Rib. In order to get hard shell crabs your going to have to visit a crab house which is much too casual given your desription above.

              2. re: Just Visiting

                There is a Prime Rib Restaurant in D.C. I agree with CDouglas that the restaurant has fabulous Imperial Crab, softshells and crabcakes. FoiGras

                1. re: Just Visiting

                  Here is a listing of participants in the True Blue program updated on June 1:

                  I mentioned the Baltimore location of The Prime Rib because it made the list while the DC shop did not for some reason. Currently there are more participating locations in Maryland and Virginia than in DC.

              3. My guess is that what he means is local seafood, including crabs. As other posters have indicated, you are probably better off with a place that serves nice crab cakes. Some good spots- in particular since it is on someone elses dime and (I'm assuming here) a bit of a history buff maybe 1789? Also since it is on someone elses wallet, Kinkaids which is no bargain but has great local seafood in a white tablecloth setting. Other places would be a private room at Blacksalt or Old Ebbitt (don't hold your nose, those who are snobs!) depending on where you are staying.

                1. Thanks for all the advice. I honestly have no idea what this guy means, so agree with confusion over soft shell v. crab cakes. I have a reservation for DC Coast and Kinkead's, and will figure it out over the next couple of days...I will also look at 1789.

                  Personally, I think I will be vested in the wine list, as this couple be a very long dinner... :) I will update to give his verdict!

                  12 Replies
                  1. re: DCLindsey

                    DC Lindsey:
                    I would clarify what this guy is looking for. Upscale dining with great crab cakes and soft-shell crabs, crab mperial etc vs. A crab feist with steamed Maryland crabs on brown paper with shorts or jeans, pitchers of beer etc. If you want the former, go to The Prime Rib. If you want a crab feast, you will need to drive 35 minutes to Cantler's near Annapolis for a Maryland crab feast.

                    1. re: dining with doc

                      For an out of towner introducing them to a crab feast you could hit Quarterdeck, Capt Pells or one of the places in Bethesda. Dancing Crab is a let down any noob would detect, though.

                    2. re: DCLindsey

                      I would make sure that the above mentioned places actually have Maryland or local crab. Virginia has a lot of soft shell, but not as much picked crab. Maryland has relatively little soft shell.

                      Cashion's and Dino are the only DC restaurants that pledge to serve you local blue crab in the True Blue program listed above.

                      1. re: wineo1957

                        been eating crabs for 50 years. the quality of the crab and the skill of the how the crab is cooked is more important than the source of the blue crab. same species. if I lined up crabs from texas, louisianna, caroiinas, virginia and md and cooked them the identical way, you would be hard pressed to choose which was from maryland. This year we have had crabs from 4 restaurants. The first 3 had out of state crabs and were great. the 4th had maryland crabs that although were big, were light and some were mushy which i blame on overcooking.

                        1. re: dining with doc

                          For hard shell crabs which are cook live, I agree that heaviness of the crab is more important than where it is from. Mushy can also be due to cooking dead crabs, crabs begin to break down as soon as they die. Lobster too. It should be easier to get a live blue from the bay than from LA or TX, but that is not always the case.

                          For picked crab, I am a firm believer in Maryland.

                          1. re: dining with doc

                            Yes!!! You tell it like it is "doc." So many "purists" on this list--yet I have often challenged their ability to REALLY be able to TASTE THE DIFFERENCE in the source of crab meat--ESPEICALLY WHEN BLENDED INTO A CRABCAKE.. the seasonings can often mask the actual taste of the crabmeat. As long as the lumps are generously large, sweet and meaty. Perhpas my palate isn't as defined as though who can truly distinguish Maryland Blue Crab versus other area providers. FoiGras

                            1. re: FoiGras

                              The OP wrote: "Since we are in DC, he believes we should have some "Chesapeake bay blue crabs" as his family lived in Maryland in the 1800s..."

                              That is the only reason I mentioned the True Blue program.

                              Marylanders do the best things with them though.

                              1. re: FoiGras

                                Maryland has a program to promote its fish. At eh state fair, they had blind taste tasting of crab. Something like 75% of people, blind, picked Maryland Crab over any other- Gulf, South American, Indonesian. These were just people at the fair.

                              2. re: dining with doc

                                Usually they get dried out if you overcook them. Mushy is associated with getting "whiteys" which are crabs that have just molted and have not yet filled out their shell. They have a bright white bottom shell and only a small, waterlogged amount of meat. You throw them back as far as I am concerned. Crabs with a dirty/rusty looking bottom shell are the heavy crabs you are looking for when feasting.

                                Info here:

                                1. re: dining with doc

                                  Never mind, I see someone else mentioned dead crabs equal mushy crabs.

                                  1. re: Teddybear

                                    Dead crabs equal go-to-the-hospital crabs. Never, ever experience that.

                                    1. re: CDouglas

                                      i have eaten crabs which recently shed that are light and wet but the meat is still formed. the consistency of some of these crabs was like cottage cheese, mushy, some were fine

                            2. DC--is this person your boss or some control freak? I know we all want to impress people and/or provide a good time. I just feel very bad that you are in a situation that seems to be causing you great stress for no apparent reason. The Chowhounds have responded very favorably with great suggestions, but I do believe that they are feeling a bit challenged as to making suggestions and recommendations based on the information you've provided.

                              If I may speak for all of us, we are concerned that you are having to deal with a nasty situation that you shouldn't have to deal with. Just take this person to where YOU FEEL COMFORTABLE. Just take the advice from any of the suggestions--the Chowhounds won't let you down. If the person is dissatisfied, then so be it. The fact that the PERSON'S family lived in Maryland in the 1800's is a supercilious comment. What does that have to do with anything? Modern day restaurants rarely provide the food recipes that were available back in that time. Yes, blue crabs in their many forms are available at any good to above par restaurant in the MD/Dc area. Great crabcakes//soft shells/and hard steamed crabs are available.

                              Yes, focus on the wine list and get this person drunk before ordering--no matter where you decide to dine. Good luck. p.s.--You may consider asking this person to go on the Net and/or Chowhound Board and pick what he/she believes would be the best choice for THAT DINNER. Takes you off the hook. The decision could be based on whatever the "Bully" thinks is what will fit the bill. FoiGras JUST A THOUGHT.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: FoiGras

                                Probably not a great idea to suggest that the "Bully" come here, since he'll probably find this thread!

                                1. re: dmjordan

                                  Point well taken--so what do you think? Isn't there something we can suggest to help? Thanks for your take on the situation. Why not have DCLindsey ask the person what he/she may prefer for the dining out spot. DC could supply some issues of Baltimore and DC magazines or even Zagat. Just tossing out some off the wall ideas. FoiGras

                                  1. re: FoiGras

                                    Agree completely. That's great advice. Lindsey is concerned about satisfying a demanding person who has made a vague request. Solution - go back and ask the individual for more specifics. It could be that the guy actually wants hard shell crabs and the casual environment is fine. Lindsey didn't say that the more formal environment is what the boss wanted - that could just be an assumption on Lindsey's part, based on the fact that it is a business dinner. But some clients are down for a good time vs being impressed with the decor. It could also be that the boss doesn't really know that many people are not into soft shells and that picking hard shells is messy. So go back and talk to the boss. Although...I just re-read the OP. Lindsey doesn't even say this is the boss. Just one of the five people...

                                    Oh - one other piece of advice - if this is the boss, and you can't cope with this person, start polishing up your resume and look for another job!

                              2. After all this, five will get you ten that the guy orders prime rib.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Just Visiting

                                  Well, that is a hoot. Glad that you are able to maintain your sense of humor with what you are having to deal with. So, did you decide where to dine? If you did select the Prime Rib Restaurant you can get the crab with the prime rib--sort of surf and turf. Good luck. FoiGras

                                2. still think the thing to do is ask the person what he prefers...a hard shell crab feast with beers, crab soup, sliced tomato, corn on the cob etc vs. a more formal meal with cocktails followed by crab cakes or soft shells or crab imperial or rockfish or flounder stuffed with crab all accompanied by the perfect wine. once you get the answer to that question the rest is easy. we can tell you where to go based on what location you want to be in. ask and ye shall find DCLINDSEY

                                  1. THIS is why I love chowhound. :) I appreciate all the follow up and support on this. No one likes talking to this guy (we are an unwilling partner in a business deal and he likes he hear himself speak) which is why I did not immediately follow up with a "what the heck does that mean?!?" email. I volunteered to find a place for dinner as I recently moved from here and don't want to end up at some place awful. And the request for "nice" was more to someone else's comment - its on a company, not personal, tab, so live a little!

                                    Dinner is in a few hours so will update thereafter...

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: DCLindsey

                                      I agree with everyone else. You do not want to take this guy to a crab feast! It means sitting on newspaper covered picnic tables and wearing t-shirts so you can clean up after being splattered when somone hammers a shell or eats corn on the cob.

                                      Better to go to a ritzy restaurant and have some softshell crab, good lumpmeat crabcakes, or a nice shell-less crabmeat cocktail and a good 12 year old single malt scotch. If more casual, some Sam Adams.

                                      If you want a great view of the city, the Sky Dome on top of the DoubleTree hotel in Crystal City - Across from the Pentagon is a great place to sip scotch, watch people doing Karaoke, and the restaurant revolves, so you can get a good view of the city. They serve a great crab cake there too!

                                    2. So, we went to Elisir. I asked the guy before we went what he wanted and either crab cakes or soft shell crabs were fine. He actually was more agreeable than he had been previously. We decided to try Elisir, as they had soft shell crabs on the menu. As guessed by others, he ordered the....steak! Of course. However, we may try for crab cakes later in the trip so I appreciate all the comments.

                                      Brief comments about Elisir: I was very underwhelmed. I had the cigar box carpaccio as an appetizer - branzino I believe. It is served in a cigar box with apple wod chips smoking it for 4 minutes. It was very good - fresh, light, just an all around tasty and interesting dish. For an entree, I had the squid ink pasta with razor clams. It was pretty awful. It was cold and the pasta was pretty salty. I have not had razor clams but they were a bit gritty (as if not properly cleaned) and very rubbery - impossible to cut. I have never had razor clams so maybe this was normal? Anyways, did not enjoy it but dinner was lengthy and we wanted to get out of there so I did not say anything.

                                      Thanks for all your help!

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: DCLindsey

                                        DCLindsey - thank YOU so much for getting back to us. Most never do...and we are left in suspense...Enzo Fargione has quite a reputation so it is surprising to hear that anything was less than fantastic, much less awful. I would have sent them back.

                                        It is absolutely hysterical that the fussy dude ordered steak. OTOH, the soft shell crab prep at Elisir is not exactly the traditional prep - it is in a ragu of a ragu of Yukon potatoes, artichoke hearts, roasted pancetta, yellow cherry tomatoes and Castelvetrano green olives and a rich veal reduction. I'm not a fan of soft shell crabs, as a rule, but I certainly wouldn't eat something like this, which would completely overwhelm the flavor of the crab.

                                        1. re: Just Visiting

                                          The theme to this business trip is "The Song That Never Ends" - we are never going to get done and have been working all weekend!

                                          I agree that the preparation seemed over the top, but I at least fulfilled the request and there was soft shell crab. :) And yes - had I been on a non-business dinner, or even with different business contacts, I would have sent it back!