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The Dish: Creole-style catfish with dirty rice, shrimp remoulade, and Creole sauce
The Location: Grapeseed, 4865 Cordell Ave., Bethesda. (301) 986-9592.
The Price: $22, which includes a side of French beans
The Skinny: This looks like no fried catfish plate I’ve ever sampled down South. This is fried catfish filtered through the imagination of Grapeseed chef-owner Jeff Heineman, whose Bethesda restaurant and wine bar consistently turns out inspired interpretations of American classics. I stumbled upon this catfish only after learning, to my considerable annoyance, that the chef had taken his extraordinary fried-chicken-and-waffles in bourbon sauce off the menu.
Dipped in evaporated milk and dredged lightly in cornmeal flour, the farm-raised-catfish fillet is placed on its side, formed into a circle, secured with a toothpick, and lightly fried. The fish keeps its cylindrical form after its dip in the fryer, and Heineman spoons his fiery dirty rice, spiked with andouille and tasso, into the center of the fillet and tops it with a mustardy shrimp remoulade and scallions. The whole southern-fried concoction rests in a pool of piquant Creole sauce that has been puréed to a fine, creamy consistency. The dish is a spoil of riches: heat playing off creaminess, fried textures soaking up liquid sauces, sweet fish and shrimp mixing with earthy sausages.