Restaurant News & Reviews

Seafood lovers get choices

This week brings news of a boatload of options for seafood lovers.

Crabtree Valley Mall landed a huge catch in the form of the area's first McCormick & Schmick's (4325 Glenwood Ave.; 881-7848; The upscale casual national chain is known for its extensive selection of fresh seafood, which is delivered so frequently that the menu is printed twice daily. The "Fresh List" typically includes about 30 options, from rainbow trout to gray sole to Dungeness crab to half a dozen or more varieties of oyster on the half shell. Preparation methods are likewise diverse, and on a given day might include grilled Alaskan halibut, beer-battered cod, cedar plank-roasted salmon, sea scallops seared with prosciutto, and seafood Newburg.

McCormick & Schmick's is open for lunch and dinner daily. A special bar menu is offered weekdays from 4 to 6:30 p.m. and Monday through Thursday from 9 to 10 p.m., with options such as oyster shooters, spinach and artichoke dip, and a half-pound cheeseburger with fries going for $1.95 each. And no, that price is not a typo.

The opening last week of Backfins Crabhouse (110 S. White St.; 562-8500) in Wake Forest may not have made as big a splash as McCormick & Schmick's, but for fans of Chesapeake Bay blue crabs, it's a trophy catch. The restaurant's owners, brothers Jim and John Jenkins, hail from Maryland, where their family has been in the crab shack business for three decades. They've re-created that tradition here with tables covered in brown paper and mallets for cracking the shells of the house specialty, steamed crabs. They're offered in any quantity you like, from a single crab to the $24.95 all you can eat Crab Feast.

The brothers are also proud of their Maryland style crab cakes, which John Jenkins says are "all jumbo lump, with just enough cracker to hold them together." Other options include peel and eat shrimp, oysters and clams on the half shell, and Southern fried seafood platters. There's a modest wine selection, and beers are -- true to crab shack tradition -- available by the bottle only. Backfins serves dinner 4 to 10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and 3 to 10 p.m. Friday, and is open from noon until 10 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

In Durham's Brightleaf Square, Rosana Silva and Raquel Siquera have opened Piazza di Mare, a restaurant-within-a-restaurant in the former market and gelateria room of Piazza Italia (905 W. Main St.; 956-7360; The new menu is served only in the Piazza di Mare dining room and leans heavily to seafood with a contemporary Italian accent. Starter options include Tuscan fish fry, mussels in a white wine tomato sauce and fried calamari, followed by the likes of filet of sole Milanese, horseradish-crusted salmon, and squid ink-dyed black and white linguine with shrimp and scallops. Piazza di Mare is open for dinner every night but Sunday. Unlike Piazza Italia, it is not open for lunch.