Jeff Black, the restaurateur who has given us such places at BlackSalt in the Palisades and Addie’s in Rockville, really hates it when journalists and bloggers refer to his expanding restaurant “empire.” It’s kind of hard to blame him: Just Google “Jeff Black” and “restaurant empire,” and check out those results.
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.
The name is fitting in more ways than one: Black thinks his place will be the “largest oyster bar on the East Coast,” a claim that I can’t independently confirm at the moment. Regardless, the operation will be big: The dining room will seat 110, and the oyster bar itself will have 60 seats, plus some scattered tables and stools. It will offer between 30 to 35 varieties of bivalves.
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.