The Black Restaurant Group and Chef's Jeff and Barbara Black are household names to foodies in the Washington region. For years they have owned and operated local institutions such as Addie's in Rockville, Black's Bar and Kitchen in Bethesda, and BlackSalt in the Palisades area of Washington, D.C.. Their newest venture opened just this week in the Logan Circle neighborhood on 14th Street called Pearl Dive Oyster Palace with a restaurant on the first level and a bar called Black Jack which is scheduled to open shortly on the second floor. Given this is only a few steps from my apartment I have been watching the construction, but happened to stumble upon the restaurant last night in it's opening evening and was thrilled to walk in with no wait and grab a great table at an adorable new spot in the neighborhood. The bar opens up to the street as if you are in New Orleans and grabbing drinks to go (I know, we all wish). The restaurant is decorated casually with a distressed nautical themed interior and they even have "take a number" machines at the front similar to what we find at the Whole Foods counter in order to keep track of the line when things get crowded. The vibe is laid back, the menu is unique, and this place is sure to be successful given the namesake and the mixed concept. It opens at an interesting time given the Logan Circle seafood staple Hank's Oyster Bar just expanded to include a late night lounge and further offerings, but because the menus differ (and don't just offer oysters), I think Hank's can continue to thrive while Pearl Dive Oyster Palace can find solid footing as well. I wish them both luck as I have always loved Hank's and really enjoyed my experience at Pearl Dive as well.
My friends and I started with a bottle of a delicious Califorina Viognier which was reasonably priced at $43. We decided to split the BBQ peel and eat shrimp and the olive oil poached tuna appetizers to start. I am always willing to let a lot of things slide when it's opening night, but I was disappointed that our waitress had not tried many of the dishes and wasn't able to give us any glowing recommendations. She did not seem to be ultra knowledgeable about the offerings, so we went with our own gut instincts based on the descriptions on the menu. Additionally, I was not thrilled to see a note at the bottom of the menu that the first bread basket including cornbread muffins is on the house, but additional baskets are $3.00. Seems short-sighted to me to make such a bold and what appears to be cheap statement on the menu which has the ability to make customers annoyed from the get-go, but a lot of restaurants have completely foregone the bread offering altogether so I guess this is better than nothing? Thankfully, both appetizers really delivered bold flavors and therefore cancelled out some of the initial concerns. The BBQ shrimp was served in a bowl of a oil and garlic sauce with onions and had a nice kick to it. It also came with two pieces of garlic bread to soak up all the sauce in the bowl which we were sure not to waste. I loved the olive oil poached tuna which was mixed in with a bean salad and croutons also in a very tasty sauce with great flavor. Both appetizers were really delicious and different and made me even more excited for my main course.
Two of us ordered full portions of the Addie's famous mussels for our entrees which were steamed with garlic, shallots, tomato, lemon, and parsley. Our other friend went with the seafood gumbo-- Pearl Dive offers five or six types of gumbos so this is clearly one of their specialties. All of the dishes were very good and I really enjoyed the mussels, however I will say that I am a mussels fanatic and I think nothing beats Robert Wiedmaier's preparations at Brasserie Beck or the BRABO Tasting Room. Yet, still very enjoyable and worthy of praise. We did decide to share a dessert for the table and it was hard to choose because there were so many different types of pies that sounded delicious, but we went for the apple pie in a cast iron skillet with cinnamon ice cream. It was really warm and delicious and a great way to end the meal.
I have to give Pearl Dive Oyster Palace high marks for opening night. Great atmosphere, delicious food, and so much promise. I'm happy to have it close by and I look forward to going back to get a peek at Black Jack when it opens up in the upcoming weeks. I hear rumors of seafood pizzas, a fun bar menu, and bocce ball that I will definitely need to check out.