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Thursday, February 17, 2011

BlackSalt

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2011 Top 100, Washingtonian 2010 #73, Washingtonian 2009 #75, Washingtonian 2008 #56
Neighborhood: Palisades

The Setup


Rounding out Restaurant Week was a relatively last minute lunch reservation with Official Friend of DCWD Rae. Looking for a place that would be suitable for my mostly-vegetarian-but-on-occasion-pescetarian lunch companion, we decided on BlackSalt.

The Vibe

BlackSalt fits in well with the rest of the neighborhood: it's cute and charming and most importantly has all the kinds of things that a person with a good disposable income would like. Let's start at the front where the fish market is. A small shop with a blackboard of specials and an open fish on ice counter, selling things that are both appetizing and wicked expensive (Nantucket Bay scallops, black truffle oil). Things that while you wait make you crave what you're about to eat all the much more.

Move deeper and there's an interesting split: one wall is the typical seafood restaurant faded Atlantis paint job, but to the left is the bar, sleek and metallic and drawing an L to the kitchen off to the side. This small corridor is where most people queue up (and on this particular day a very sizable queue), which has the awkward effect of having people stand over you as you eat at the bar.

The main dining area is broken up into several parts: a few four-tops along the aforementioned painted wall; a main dining room that's fairly noisy, with tables on top of one another, awash in beige and dark brown accents, booths and six-tops; and then a back room with white bricks and glass shelves of glasses, half-booths along a padded wall where we sat. Overall the feel is funky and fun.

The Food


It being a seafood restaurant, obviously we were going to order seafood (a fact that some other denizens of the restaurant forgot, more on this later). So I went with Addie's mussels (a dish I assume is on the menu of the eponymous sister restaurant to BlackSalt) a simple broth of tomato, garlic, and lemon. Wonderfully rich broth, that was almost like a warm crab bisque by itself (admission? I ate some of it even after the mussels were gone and there was no more bread to soak it up). The mussels themselves were smaller than normal but with a good flavor to them, and all in all a good dish.

Rae had herself a ruby and golden beet arugala salad with herbed feta, croutons, and a dijon vinaigrette food. Pretty classic combination (though my mom for instance uses goat cheese), especially given the freshness of the beets. My favorite part though might have been the croutons, which were herbed to make them surprisingly salty which would add welcome bursts of flavor contrast to each bite.

For my main course, I ordered the shrimp and grits with fennel sausage and arugala. About the only complaint I had was that they left the tails on which meant I had to pick up the shrimp to eat them. Other than that, it was a beautiful dish: creamy white grits that melted into your mouth, and crumbly sausage that provided a rich saltiness. So good that the woman next to me actually leaned over at the end of her meal and asked me how it was.

I guess now's as good a time as any to mention something tacky that happened, which I will admit is a clear example of why I can't blame servers for hating Restaurant Week. This dinerby us had ordered the seafood stew, an olio of seasonal seafood which actually looked real good when I saw it come out for others. But this girl had the gall to say, "It's not exactly what I had in mind." It's a seafood stew at a seafood restaurant... what exactly did you have in mind? I guess it was one thing that she demanded to send it back (which is something that no matter how bad something is, I've never done), and it was another to see her self-righteous haughty attitude about it, which was just uncomfortable for everybody around her, given that it didn't seem likely from her dress or her demeanor that she would ever be here on a normal basis. What's even crazier is that the staff at BlackSalt not only obliged her and gave her a replacement entree, but took it off the check! I have to give serious props to them for it, and I tipped my waitress extra because of it.

Alright back to the regular show. Rae ordered the Louisiana poached eggs served with blue shell crab, crawfish, tasso (Cajun ham), and a cayenne hollandaise. Great flavors abound from the spice of the ham and the hollandaise, to some wonderful textures of a wonderfully poached egg, perfectly cooked crawfish and crab. This is one of those dishes that I feel can get better and better with each bite.

For dessert, I had the chocolate chambord truffle cake with a raspberry compote. This reminded me that I love raspberry flavor and hate raspberry seeds. Necessary evil though, because this was pretty good. Rich in a good way, fluffy, surprising given that it was a dessert at a seafood restaurant at lunch.

Rae stuck with the housemade mango sorbet, which we both thought tasted like a nice fresh mango (though probably not as good as one right off the tree). With the fruit it came with, a nice light finish to the end of the meal.

The Verdict


Some delicious bites, in a fun place. Definitely worth going back to.

Food Rating: ****
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd
Vibe:
Chatty to Energetic
Cost:
$$$$
(out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
Pairing
: If you can afford the price of the fish out front, then take the opportunity to buy some wonderfully delicious supplies and cook the next meal together.

BlackSalt Fish Market & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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