Jeff Black plans to open his Empire in December


Jeff Black points out what he thinks may be the largest oyster bar on the East Coast. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

That’s right: Nearly 5,000 results by my search. “They always say, ‘Jeff’s empire is growing bigger,’ and I hate that,” Black says this afternoon over lunch. “It gets under my skin.”

Black’s wife and business partner, Barbara Black, thought it would be better for her husband to embrace the imperial term rather than reject it. Embrace it he has: The Blacks’ forthcoming project in the Mosaic District in Merrifield will be called the Empire Oyster House.


Jeff Black has big plans for his Merrifield project, the Empire Oyster House, which will serve more than 30 varieties of bivalve. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

The chef expects to sell upwards of 40,000 oysters a month.

But the Empire handle is also designed to recall the restaurant’s true inspiration: New York City during the 19th century, when the bivalve was the true signature food of Gotham. Black is even considering constructing a miniature version of the Manhattan Bridge over the oyster bar, which will feature eight shuckers and a sous chef inspecting every bivalve served.

Former Black’s Bar and Kitchen chef Mallory Buford will head the kitchen at Empire; among the options will be a seafood platter in which diners decide what they want to include, whether oysters, seviches, mussels or lobster.

Black is pushing to open Empire in December, to take advantage of some complicated tax appreciation benefits that end in 2012.

Tim Carman serves as the full-time writer for the Post's Food section and as the $20 Diner for the Weekend section, a double duty that requires he ingest more calories than a draft horse.

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