When the owner of the new Darcy hotel approached Robert Wiedmaier about creating a restaurant for the boutique property, the veteran D.C. chef asked, “What are you looking for?”
“What do you want to do?” replied KHP Capital Partners, the San Francisco-based real estate private equity firm.
“Seafood from around the world,” Wiedmaier told the company. And vegetables and jazz, he added, taking into account not just his personal taste, but what the chef says he hears from his customers.
The result, introduced in Logan Circle in April, goes by Siren by Robert Wiedmaier and it finds John Critchley, formerly of Brine in Fairfax, as the chef de cuisine behind an eye-catching seafood bar. (Brian McBride, Wiedmaier’s corporate chef and business partner, helped write the menu and gave the restaurant its name, a nod to the mythological sea creatures who lured sailors to their deaths.) Located off the lobby of the 226-room hotel, which has erased any sign that it used to house a DoubleTree, the dining room is a cocoon awash in navy blue, decorated with mermaid art outfitted on one side with a row of booths set in curtain-framed alcoves.
Siren, says Wiedmaier, hits a sweet spot between two of his best-known businesses, “not as expensive as Marcel’s,” his high-end French restaurant, nor as casual as Brasserie Beck, his modern European outpost.
Like a lot of places, Siren, Wiedmaier’s first new D.C. restaurant in 10 years, can’t resist a long introduction. “The chef wants to take you on a journey,” a server greeted us on a recent visit. Dishes in the new establishment are arranged not as appetizers or entrees but in categories that spell out how they’re prepared or where they come from. “Raw to slightly cooked,” for instance, includes ribbons of fluke and pickled vegetables in a puddle of yellow pepper juice shot through with horseradish, a small plate garnished with smoked trout roe. “Warm & Crispy” embraces two of my favorite combinations: fried soft-shell crabs served upright in a bowl with a tangy citrus-tamarind jus and slivered green almonds and a showy causa. The latter brings a cake of spicy mashed potatoes supporting grilled mashed halibut and fluke, punched up with preserved limes and Thai chiles and sporting a halo of phyllo for texture.
Fava beans and Israeli couscous tossed with fresh mint, sheep’s-milk cheese and citrus make a better impression than totems of warm eggplant, glossy and oversweetened with honey. One of a handful of meat choices is lamb served three ways — as a roseate rack, shoulder meat and grilled sausage — and circled in an intriguing cinnamon-hibiscus jus.
Initial dinners reveal a kitchen that has a liberal hand with salt and sometimes overdoes accessories while also offering a few novelties to set Siren apart from a pack of new restaurants. Seafood platters feature shellfish that don’t require dunking because they’re pre-dressed. The application on clams, for instance, mimics cocktail sauce with its moistener of tomato water and horseradish, while prawns get brushed with a crab-infused ponzu.
Wiedmaier says he wants to “demystify” caviar, although $125 for an ounce of osetra is probably not a worker bee’s idea of everyday dining. A more approachable way to explore fish roe is via a sampler of three different savory cookies for $20. Macarons become vehicles for white chocolate creme fraiche and domestic hackleback, or sturgeon roe.
Bread intentionally shows up after you’ve been eating awhile, in part to surprise diners, says Wiedmaier. The composition is unusual, too: thin slices of flatbread presented with what a server announces as “tuna ganoush” whipped up from fish belly poached in olive oil.
Daily specials net some treasures. The best so far have been baked oysters and meaty bites of eel, caught in the Chesapeake Bay, sauced with Riesling, cream and lemon grass and set off with bright sun daisies. One oyster is not enough.
Live jazz enlivens the late-night scene Thursdays through Saturdays. Occasionally, a chip off the old block makes an appearance. The guy on the bass is Wiedmaier’s son, Marcel, 18, the recent recipient of a jazz scholarship to New York University.
1515 Rhode Island Ave. NW. 202-779-9957. sirenbyrw.com. Large plates, $32 to $58.