Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, 8 September 2012

Last night I tried Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, one of Jeff and Barbara Black’s DC-area restaurants.  Pearl Dive has been open for almost a year now, and I wanted to check them out before their big anniversary bash.

Naturally, I started off with a plate of twelve raw oysters.  I got a good variety – two each of six – including Hammersley (Washington), Chefs Creek (British Columbia), Broadwater (Virginia), Battle Creek (Virginia), Wild Goose (Rhode Island), and Fire Lake (New Brunswick).  The oysters came out with the usual cocktail sauce and mignonette, but also included was their Dive Juice and Yuzu-Mirin options, which were both great…I especially liked the yuzu with the oysters.

You can’t show up to Pearl Dive and not start out with a few oysters-on-the-half-shell. That would be wrong. Top right sauce was the Dive Juice, bottom right is the yuzu.

My second oyster dish of the evening was the Mariscos de Campechana.  A sundae glass filled with Virginica oysters, blue crab, shrimp, tomato-serrano salsa, and avocado, served with tortilla chips.  It was a little bit bigger than I was anticipating, but that was okay as it was delicious.

Another great oyster dish…bigger than I was anticipating.

Pearl Dive has quite a number of oyster preparations, including some hot ones.  My server, Blake, recommended the Tchoupitoulas plate – oyster confit, blue crab, tasso ham, and roasted corn – which was probably my favorite dish of the night.  The other options sounded good, but there is only so much I can try in one sitting.

My favorite from the evening…the Tchoupitoulas oyster plate.

I closed off the meal with an order of the Braised Pork Cheeks, served with chipotle-ham-hock broth and stone grits.  The tender pork cheeks went really well with the grits, which had a slight sweetness possibly imparted by the broth.

Nice and tender pork cheeks.

Good cocktails as well.  I got a Sazerac to start off….

Good Sazeracs here.

…and finished up with a recommendation – Pearl Dive’s cross between a Pimm’s Cup and a Mule – the Pearl Cup (Pimms, Plymouth Gin, cucumber, lime, mint, house ginger beer).  This one was excellent…I’ll be adding this to my list to reproduce at home.

Great take on a Pimm’s Cup. Recommend.

As a warning, Pearl Dive is first-come, first-served, so try to get there early.  I went on a Saturday at about 7 PM and they were mobbed…I got a seat at the oyster bar (four or five seats) which was not.  Pearl Dive has a frontage  bar which opens onto the street, and would be nice when it’s not as humid as this evening happened to be (here’s some photos of the establishment from the folks that built it).

Also, check out Tom Sietsema’s reviewat the Washington Post here…he recommends the catfish po’ boy, which I will be trying next time I stop by.

Pearl Dive Oyster Palace
1612 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 319-1612
Pearl Dive seats on a first-come, first-serve basis.

America Eats Tavern, 26 June 2012

I made it a point to try out America Eats Tavern, José Andrés’ American history restaurant, before it was set to close after a final dinner on 4 July.  America Eats was opened as a concept restaurant partnership between  Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup and the Foundation for the National Archives.  The restaurant broke out dishes that were based on accounts of food and drink consumed throughout America’s history.  I loved the concept, as well as the stories of each dish posted on the menu.  I’m really disappointed that I only just got to try the restaurant since it’s now closed, as everything I tasted was excellent.  I’m hoping that Andrés will continue to have some of the popular dishes at some of his other venues.

I started off with a cocktail, Franklin’s Milk Punch.  It was based on a recipe contained in correspondence from Benjamin Franklin to James Bowdoin (I found the letter and some additional information here – also included is a modern recipe for the drink).  It sounds a little odd – you put milk and lemon together with brandy and a few other ingredients before removing the  resulting curds – but it came out tasty.  One of these days I’ll try making it myself.

Benjamin Franklin’s Milk Punch. Nice lemony taste.

My first appetizer was a half dozen oysters-on-the-half-shell.  America Eats provided two house-made fruit vinegars (watermelon and raspberry – I liked these), lemon juice, and pepper for garnishing.


…and garnishes.

My server, Lavon, had some fantastic recommendations for my orders.  Next up was one of these – the Shrimp ‘N’ Anson Mills Grits.  Nice buttery grits with bits of bacon and fresh shrimp.  Delicious.

Great recommendation from my server, Lavon.

As I’ve written in earlier posts, I’m a huge fan of foie gras.  I’ll almost always get it when I see it on the menu.  At America Eats, they had an interesting combination dish – Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches with Foie Gras.  It sounded so unique that it was not going to get passed by.  It was amazing…the tastes worked so well together.  It came with Saratoga Chips (more on that here) and a bottle of milk…great pairing.

So, so good.

Great sides for the PBJFG.

My second cocktail was the Switchel.  Billed as a drink from colonial times, the Switchel was a mixture of rum, cider vinegar, molasses, and ginger.  The cider vinegar was the predominent taste, but it was still refreshing.  It went well with the Americana theme of the restaurant and the rest of my dishes.

The Switchel.

My last starter (is it really a starter since it was my fourth?) was the Vermicelli Prepared Like Pudding (see here for Lewis Fresnaye’s original recipe from 1802).  I was a little worried that this would be too heavy for me to continue on with the meal, but it wasn’t, regardless of the pasta and cheese involved.  This was some of the best mac and cheese I’ve had.  The mushrooms (morels I think) went great with the dish.

Way better than regular mac and cheese.

Okay – on to the entree.  Based on another recommendation from Lavon, I went with the BBQ Beef Short Ribs with Hoppin’ John…tender beef with black-eyed peas and rice in a spicy sauce.  Great stuff.

Short Ribs…Excellent.

Even after all this, I just could not pass up dessert.  Based on my server’s final recommendation, I ordered the Pecan Pie.  Andrés’ take on the pecan pie included candied pecans and some molecular gastronomy – bourbon foam.  I washed it down with a glass of Bulleit bourbon neat.  Great end to the meal.

What a great ending.

Great meal all around.  I liked the closing touch too.  Everyone’s bill comes out in a vintage American book.

Mother Mason, by Bess Streeter Aldrich.

I’m going to miss America Eats Tavern – wish that I had experienced them earlier – but I expect that whatever Andrés does in that space will be excellent as well.

For a little more on America Eats, check out this timeline from Eater DC, or follow the Twitter feed…I’d expect that the updates on the new restaurant will be posted there.

Finz Seafood and Grill, 8 July 2012

Based on my friend Kara’s recommendation, I checked out Finz in Salem.  Finz, a harbor-side restaurant on Pickering Wharf, has a fantastic menu full of excellent starters, entrees, and cocktails.

View of the Finz deck.

Being that I’m not local to Salem, and because everything sounded so good, I went a little overboard with the appetizers.  I wish I could have had more than four – several others sounded excellent – but I had to draw the line somewhere.  Our server, Kim, made some excellent recommendations throughout the evening.

I started off with a half-dozen of the Finz Wasabi-Stoli Oysters, a popular item at the restaurant.  The oysters were topped with wasabi caviar and Stoli “Raz” vodka, and served with cocktail sauce.  It was a good change from regular oysters-on-the-half-shell.

Fresh oysters with a twist.

Next up was the Tuna Tartare.  It was excellent, and included mango, avocado, red onions, ginger-soy dressing, and wonton chips.  I was sad when it was all gone.

So good…

Baked Goat Cheese with roasted garlic, Kalamata olives, and garlic bread followed.  A great Mediterranean dish, it reminded me of Zaytinya back in D.C.  I was surprised at how good it was – it was, after all, relatively simple – but I’d get it again.

Great Mediterranean touch to the meal.

The menu had a few interesting du jours, including a gazpacho of the day (I didn’t get it, although I was considering it – that day’s was an asian version) and a guacamole of the day (which I did get).  This particular day Finz was serving an apple cinnamon guac with cinnamon-sugar chips.  It was a very different flavor from the norm and worked really well…just another indicator that the creative talent at Finz is top-notch.

I’m a big fan of guacamole, and this version was creative and delicious.

Completing this last starter, we moved on to the entrees.  Going on our server’s recommendation, I went with the Black and White Sesame Tuna, which was served rare on top of seaweed salad.  It was plated with a sushi rice cake topped with crab “dynamite”, which was similar to the creamy and spicy crab topping found on some of my favorite sushi rolls, and avocado.  A wasabi cream lent some additional flavor to the dish.  I think this may be my new favorite tuna dish.  Excellent all around.

What a great dish this was. I’ll probably be getting it next time I am in Salem.

Tuna is definitely something that Finz does well.  I’d encourage visitors to try out some of that, although likely whatever one gets there would be excellent…I was impressed with all of the dishes.

Dessert was also fantastic.  I went for the Warm Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie.  The description of it interested me because it said it was baked cookie dough.  It was like a deep dish, cake-like cookie – soft and moist.  Good stuff.

Awesome close to the dinner.

Good cocktail menu as well at Finz.  Here’s a couple I had:

  • Ocean Flower – Ketel One vodka, St. Germain, papaya puree, agave nectar, yuzu juice, sriracha-infused sugar rim.  I was a fan of this one…just the right level of sweet.
  • Cucumber Spritzer – Crop Cucumber vodka, Thatcher’s Cucumber liquor (hadn’t heard of this, but it’s now on my to-buy list), lemongrass syrup, white wine, soda water.  Cool and refreshing.
  • Strawberry Fields Lemonade – Ketel One Citron, rhubarb basil simple syrup, strawberry puree, lemonade.  This one was dangerous…tasted like a really tasty strawberry lemonade.

The Ocean Flower.

Good beer selection as well.

If you’re around Salem, Finz deserves your attention.  Check them out.

AGAINN, May-June 2012

I’ve hit Againn twice in the past month for some delicious , locally-sourced, gastropub food.  What makes it so endearing to me is the simple pub-fare food, classed-up, and somehow made lighter than one would typically expect of such eats.

Thus far all the dishes I’ve had at Againn (a Gaelic word meaning “with us“) have been excellent.  I’ll mention the details here.

Baked Camembert Cheese. Great starter.


  • Baked Camembert Cheese – “Studded with garlic and rosemary, tomato chutney, garlic croutes.”  Really garlicky (especially the croutes, although there is plenty in the cheese).  I’m a fan of baked Brie, and Camembert has its similarities.  The tomato chutney went well with the rosemary and garlic flavors, adding tang and a mellowing out of the saltiness.
  • Salmon Fishcakes – “Lemongrass, chili, coriander, marinated cucumbers, sweet chili dip.”  As one would imagine from the description, there’s a hint of Thai in the taste…not a bad fusion, although not the typical UK pub grub flavors.
  • Oysters – Add a half or full dozen of the daily selection of oysters Againn has up for offer.  They came out with a half lemon (with a cloth filter to catch the pulp and seeds) and a tasty shallot vinegar.

Love me some oysters…

Good fishcakes appetizer…


  • Pork Belly and Crackling – “House made black pudding, apple mash, red wine jus.”  I’ve tried this twice, and every bit of the dish has been delicious.  The pork belly was tender and succulent, and the black pudding and apple mash were flavorful even without the jus.  The crackling was crunchy and went well with the rest of the entree.  If you’re a pork fan, get this one.
  • Grilled Lamb Rump – “Potato gratin, red wine sauce.”  Againn serves the lamb medium, although it appeared closer to medium rare to me.  I actually asked for medium rare, so this was great.  Keep it in mind if you prefer yours more cooked.  The red wine sauce went very well with the meat, and the gratin side was savory (I’m definitely a fan of the sides here – they’re not something that everyone gets right).

If pork belly is on the menu, I’m probably getting it…

Great lamb dish…


  • Cheesecake (special) – Againn was testing a new cheesecake recipe when I was visiting.  Baked cheesecake with an Oreo crust, topped with melted Mascarpone, and served with a berry sauce.  The Mascarpone could have had a little more sweetness, although it worked as a nice contrast with the taste of the rest of the dessert.
  • Sticky Toffee Pudding – served with vanilla ice cream.  Sweet and tasty…a good pub dessert.  I’d get this again.
  • Strawberry Eton Mess – “Pimm’s marinated strawberries, crushed meringue, whipped cream.”  I didn’t get this, but it sounded so good that I want it in the near future.

Againn’s test cheesecake…

Great ending…


  • God of War – “Makers Mark bourbon, cherry herring, sweet vermouth, Peychauds bitters, house-made blood orange bitters.”
  • Pimm’s Cup No. 13 – “Pimm’s No. 1, choice of any spirit, english cucumber, mint, lemon, ginger syrup, Angostura bitters, ginger beer.”
  • Lady Macbeth – “Choice of vodka or gin, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, lemon, eggwhites.”

These were all good…they’re going up on my list for in-house mixology.

God of War…

Pimm’s Cup No. 13 (with gin)…

Lady Macbeth (with gin)…

If you’re a scotch fan, Againn has something for you.  Besides having an extensive scotch list, scotch lockers, and listed scotch flights, Againn will let you do your own custom flights.  I tried one with Islay scotches…all nice and peaty.

Flight of Islay scotch…Ardbeg 10, Bowmore 15, Caol Ila 12, Oban 14…

Againn has lower reviews on some sites than I would have expected.  As with any restaurants, I’d encourage folks to check places out for themselves before taking a restaurant off your list based on poor reviews – especially when the number of reviewers is low.  Keep Againn on your list.

1099 New York Ave NW
Washington, D.C. 20001
(202) 639-9830
Book on OpenTable