Maine just got a little closer to Washington.
I say this having recently eaten a lobster roll — sweet, boiled seafood tucked into a buttery, house-baked bun — at the Salt Line across from Nationals Park on the Southeast waterfront. The new restaurant, from Long Shot Hospitality, finds Kyle Bailey in the kitchen and a view of the Anacostia River from the dining rooms.
Expect a crowd. Restaurants with postcard vistas, outdoor patios and serious drinks don’t come along every day, and this one is a beaut. Without beating diners over the head with a New England theme, the creators have dressed the space with some choice details — cedar shingles, a few old ships’ prows, a custom-made bar shared by oyster shuckers and drink mixers — to send diners on a beach vacation for the duration of their meal. White subway tile and trim, sea-green booths foster a tidy and timeless look at the Salt Line, whose investors include Nationals’ first baseman Ryan Zimmerman.
Oysters? You bet, and not just the usual suspects. Here’s a chance to explore neatly opened Rochambeau from Virginia and Moonrise from Rhode Island. You order bivalves here as you would sushi elsewhere, by checking off choices from a list (look in the oyster tin on the table).
You’ll have to wait for crab cakes. While soft-shell crabs are in season, Bailey, culinary director for Long Shot Hospitality (the Dubliner, Sixth Engine, Town Hall), says he wants to show them off. And that the chef-partner does, seasoning them “Nashville hot” with cayenne and balancing the heat with honey and black garlic before displaying the plump main event on white bread with pickled green tomatoes. Delish. Poised to become the next pork belly, uni stars in a pleasing plate of bucatini that mimics carbonara with egg yolk and bacon and picks up some crunch from toasted bread crumbs Any order is better when it includes onion rings or french fries, simple pleasures made in-house.
The Salt Line seems like a natural for co-owner Jeremy Carman, who was born in Ipswich, Mass., home of the revered clam, and moved when he was 12 to Lubec, Maine, where his family ran a bed-and-breakfast and a seafood distribution company. The Salt Line has a relationship with Old Line Fish Company in Annapolis that operates as if it were a CSA, supplying the restaurant with whatever fishermen catch as opposed to what they might be asked to bring in.
Not every dish makes a splash. A riff on trout almondine has too much almond flour on brined fish, although the accompanying vegetables were a little shout out to spring. Fried clam bellies, delivered in a metal pan with coleslaw and tartar sauce, have more breading than optimal, too.
All’s forgotten when the fluffernutter milkshake arrives. A boardwalk fantasy, the confection is an eye-popping high-rise constructed with ice cream from local Ice Cream Jubilee, a chocolate-covered doughnut, fresh marshmallow, jimmies, nuts and (how could it not?) a piece of saltwater taffy waving from on high. A metal straw makes for even cooler eating. Thank Bailey’s wife, Tiffany MacIsaac of Buttercream Bakeshop for the bliss.
Brass dolphins grace the archways between dining rooms. Carman says fishermen believe the ocean mammal brings them luck. Already, the totems seem to be working their magic at the Salt Line.
79 Potomac Ave. SE. 202-506-2368. thesaltline.com . Entrees, $17 to $42.