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    Restaurant Review ~ Johnny’s Half Shell / 1819 Columbia Rd., NW

    Welcome home!

    When Johnny’s Half Shell, the iconic seafood-focused eatery, shuttered on Capitol Hill, its fans and many DC food lovers mourned. Gone was its great menu, and even worse, had the beloved chef Ann Cashion really disappeared, people wondered?

    As fate would have it, Johnny’s and Ann have reappeared, and most amusingly, in her original Adams Morgan restaurant location of Cashion’s Eats Place. With a great sigh of relief, folks can now find all her great dishes in her original setting — though its marine-inspired interior is entirely different. Except, said chef Cashion, “I feel comfortable being back in this kitchen again.”

    The decor’s marine ambiance — aqua tones, sea-worthy artwork, large clam shells (one forming a back to a bench), a fish tank separating the oyster-shucking bar from the dining area — compliments the seafood resplendent menu that brings out all the best and freshest fish dishes everyone loves.

    For a very different experience, drop by for a weekend brunch when the menu does feature some morning dishes, but also showcase some dazzling seafood eats, several inspired by Southern traditions. (Cashion is from the South, after all, though not New Orleans.)

    But her New Orleans filé gumbo, an appetizer on the brunch menu, rings true to the complex seasonings of this Louisiana Creole classic. Loaded with rice and chopped veggie, plus filé and herbal mixes, this dish could actually serve as a main course. Be sure to ask for a basket of bread so you can dunk slices in the rich gumbo sauce — a perfect pairing.

    The balance of Cashion’s brunch menu touches on traditional breakfast fare — eggs Benedict, omelets, eggs any style — and several other seafood-based appetizers.

    But to dig into her cooking styles, consider one of the lunch specials: a Niçoise salad, roasted chicken breast with field greens and roasted root vegetables, or oyster pan roast on grilled New Orleans French bread. While the latter may be truly Southern in heart, the real soul of her Southern skills show up in the several of the sandwiches.

    Sure, you can splurge on the Maine lobster roll, and surely it is delish. But what about the classic New Orleans Po’ Boy sandwiches? Cashion offers three versions of this old-time favorite: fried green tomatoes, fried shrimp, and the killer, fried oysters.

    Oyster lovers: rejoice. Six plump, batter-coated and crunchy fried oysters with thinly sliced tomatoes line a roll that the kitchen has sliced in half crosswise for much easier eating. Alongside comes a small ramekin of a spicy mayo to add a level of flavor to each bite. And, as an added benefit, each plate is heaped with hot, thinly sliced and crispy fries.

    For a sweet conclusion, consider one of her rather creative finishing touches: roasted pears with goat’s milk caramel and pain perdue, lemon chess pie with blackberry sauce, or the heavenly — no pun — chocolate angel food cake settled in a pool of warmed caramel.

    If you head to this new version of Johnny’s at dinnertime, you will find a distinctly different menu, a chance to sit in the back and watch someone shuck oysters, a busy bar scene, and likely a very busy restaurant. That all may be a plus, but if you come for brunch, you may even get a seat towards the back, which will give you a clear view of kitchen staff at work, and maybe even of Cashion herself.

    Johnny’s Half Shell / dinner nightly; brunch Sat. & Sun. (02) 506-5257.

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    Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, editor, and restaurant reviewer. She has authored books on Asian and Mexican cuisines published by Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, and Macmillan. Other credits include restaurant reviews and food articles for national and regional publications, as well as former editor of the Vegetarian Times and former food editor/writer for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. Click here to visit her website.