Everyone knows that it's hard to open a restaurant. What they don't know is that it's even harder to reopen a restaurant — especially a beloved, successful one. That's the predicament Jeff Black is in with Addie's, the second iteration of his longtime Rockville restaurant.
Everyone loved it. So everyone has an opinion about whether the new one lives up to its predecessor.
"When I first announced it, I was casual about it. Close friends would be like, 'You do know how epic this is, right?' " Black said. "I started having all these people contact me: 'I proposed to my wife there,' 'I had my reunion there.' . . . It started to put a lot of weight on my shoulders. I started to worry. I know there's going to be people who have a nostalgic view of certain things."
I never got a chance to visit the old Addie's, so as a pair of fresh eyes I can say: I like what I see. Located in the Park Potomac complex, the restaurant has made its home in a handsome space with tall windows and an ample patio. There are three distinct areas: the citrus-colored bar, the tableclothed and carpeted (read: quiet) formal dining room and a more rustic room that calls to mind the Texas heritage of Black and his grandmother, the restaurant's namesake.
Few dishes remain from the original Addie's menu. The famous ostrich dish is gone, for now: Black says he couldn't find a supplier who would sell it to him fresh, not frozen. The rolls are here to stay, though, and they're like clouds made of butter. This time, Black is serving them in paper bags that look like school buses — another call out to Addie, who was a former kindergarten teacher, as our server explains.
But the main attraction is the seafood tower. It's like an oceanic choose-your-own adventure: Diners select anywhere between seven and 12 items from a list of about 25. They were Black's idea, because he loves seafood towers but doesn't like clams.
"I would go to restaurants and say, can you hold the raw clams?" he said. "I always felt like I was getting shortchanged because I wasn't getting one of the six or seven items on the tower." He thought it would be nice to have people choose their seafood so no one would be left out. There are even vegan options.
Food writer confession: I feel Black's pain, because I can't eat bivalves. Whenever I order a seafood tower, I end up stuck with the shrimp cocktail. So Addie's build-your-own towers were a revelation: I filled mine with butter-poached lobster, a pesto blue-crab salad, broiled octopus, boquerones and, best of all, a tempura soft-shell crab in a spicy, mayonnaisey bang bang sauce. Because some of the dishes are warm and others are cold, and we ended up passing them around like small plates. It's really more like tapas — but I won't get caught up on semantics.
The list of appetizers and entrees is a much smaller, eclectic mix. The crab cakes — no filler here! — drew our eye, but the sleeper hit on the appetizer list is a vegan miso mushroom soup. With soba noodles, tofu and tempura maitake mushrooms, it's a master class in the art of umami — and a nod to Black's vegan son.
Entrees are a little more conventional: There's an Allen Brothers rib-eye steak for two, with mushrooms and an extravagant foie gras butter. Tournedos of beef are given a southwestern treatment, served with a tamale-and-corn relish. And a peppery yellowfin tuna, with charred lettuce and avocado, is a lighter option.
Desserts are another taste of the South, with salted caramel banana cream pie among the highlights. A trio of creme brulees served in mini jars were good, but we were slightly put off by the fact that they had the exact presentation as our appetizer of chicken liver mousse, duck rillettes and shrimp pimento cheese. And in the ultimate tease, the dessert menu advertised champagne pops — "Coming soon!" They'll be available any day now, Black promises, and they'll change seasonally along with the rest of the menu.
Because change, as Black reminds us, is the one constant in the restaurant business. People think they'd like their favorite restaurants to stay the same forever, as if suspended in amber, but really, they don't.
"When you look back, you put your rose-colored glasses on. You don't remember that you had to put a parka on in the wintertime, or in the summer you had to sit outside because it was too hot, or there were holes in the floor," Black said. "I try to tell my staff, this is Addie's 2.0. We're not going to be the old Addie's."
12435 Park Potomac Ave., Potomac. 301-340-0081. addiesrestaurant.com. Seafood towers $78-$110. Appetizers $9-$24. Entrees $26-$78. Tom Sietsema will return next week.