Rappahannock Oyster Bar
In the market for a getaway on the half-shell
By Tom Sietsema
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
It’s noon on a Sunday and San Francisco is on my mind as I anticipate a platter of oysters and a glass of muscadet at the counter of the Rappahannock Oyster Bar in the open and light-filled Union Market in Northeast. Oysters and wine are how I always try to launch my visits to the Bay Area, and one of my favorite places to splurge on the pairing there is at the Ferry Building and Farmers Market, home to the gleaming Hog Island Oyster Co.
Travis Croxton is pleased to hear this. The owner of the oyster bar in Washington’s freshly minted food attraction near Gallaudet University says he based his seafood joint on what he, too, saw in San Francisco. And when he got a call from Richard Brandenburg, director of culinary strategy for developer Edens, to participate in Union Market, Croxton already knew the anchor he wanted Rappahannock Oyster Bar to be.
It lacks a sea breeze, but Croxton’s 20-seat bar, flanked by a communal table and patio seating, nevertheless brims with lures: live scallops, meaty chowder, lush tuna tartare ignited with lime and chili pepper, and drinks dreamed up by a former mixer at the top-drawer Columbia Room, JP Fetherston.
The cocktails don’t have names. “We let the ingredients do the talking,” explains Croxton, who co-owns the counter -- an extension of Rappahannock River Oysters in Topping, Va. -- with his cousin Ryan. The philosophy entends to the impressive crab cake, which is bound with a suggestion of mayonnaise and a dash of hot sauce. The key to the dish: “Don’t overthink it,” says Croxton.
Watching over the tiny open kitchen for the moment is Dylan Fultineer. A veteran of the esteemed Hungry Cat in Santa Barbara, Calif., and Blackbird in Chicago, Fultineer is helping out until he starts cooking at the soon-to-open Rappahannock, a 3,000-square-foot restaurant in Richmond and another venture by the Croxton cousins.
The regular selection of raw oysters ($2 each) includes Rappahannocks, which Travis Croxton likes for the river oyster’s buttery quality, and Old Salts, pleasing for their briny notes. Down the road, the restaurateur anticipates offering “guest oysters” from elsewhere in the country.
My plate of bivales is icy and fresh, but every oyster includes a speck of (horror!) grit. I look up and notice the shucker isn’t cleaning his knife between maneuvers. San Francisco briefly retreats until the rest of my seafood shows up.