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This review appeared in The Washington Post’s 2016 Spring Dining Guide as No. 1 on a list of the year’s 10 best new restaurants.
Aaron Silverman, the genius who raised the bar for relaxed dining at the no-reservations Rose’s Luxury on Capitol Hill (and recently won a James Beard Award for his work), has repeated the trick for fine dining at the nearby Pineapple and Pearls. A major difference between the siblings is the newcomer’s price tag: $250 for a 15-course dinner inclusive of tax, tip and drinks. But if any restaurant is worth that sum, his is. Some of the food is playful. I dare you not to smile when you bite down on a chip whose dip hides inside it, or shimmering caviar paired with avocado ice cream. Some of the cooking is finished at the table, as when a chef ladles egg-enriched Parmesan consomme over a bowl bright with herbs, chilies and spring vegetables. Everything is elegant and luscious, especially the yogurt-filled fennel sphere poised over a coupe of reviving fennel juice shot through with celery, green apple and more. The knives and forks feel light as air; the delicate stemware benefits from a full-time polisher. “Astonishing” is a word I rarely deploy, but it applies to every aspect of this luxe lair from a native son.
Pineapple and Pearls: 715 Eighth St. SE. No phone. pineappleandpearls.com.
Open: Dinner Tuesday through Friday.
Prices: All-inclusive 15-course dinner $250.
More of Tom Sietsema’s top 10 new restaurants:
The following pre-review column was originally published April 15, 2016.
Pineapple and Pearls is already living up to its lofty expectations — and price
The biggest question facing Aaron Silverman before unleashing Pineapple and Pearls, the chef-owner’s hotly anticipated follow-up to Rose’s Luxury on Capitol Hill, had nothing to do with design or food, but how to present the $250 bill to diners.
Before the 15-course meal? After the parade?
“Either way, you’re going to pay for it,” says Silverman, recently honored as one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs for 2016. “Why not get it out of the way?” When hopeful diners reserve online for Pineapple and Pearls (and good luck with that), they pay half the amount up front. The day of their rendezvous, they settle the rest of the bill, which is inclusive of drinks, tax and tip. The only task left for guests is to show up and enjoy the ride, an hours-long journey that is by turns playful, astonishing and an example for other ambitious restaurants to emulate.
Rush-hour traffic delays my arrival, but multiple hosts, gathered near a quartzite counter used by Silverman’s daytime coffee shop, which occupies the front of the space, assure me my tardiness is no problem for them. Would I like a “welcome” cocktail? There are two libations, both made by beverage maestro Jeff Faile; my bourbon-based choice, a classic Gold Rush completed with lemon and honey, came garnished with a cherry glinting with gold leaf. Would I prefer to sit at the bar or go directly to my seat in the dining room? I opt to meet my guest at our table. Pineapple and Pearls is all about the guest’s wishes. Well, except for anyone who hates surprises. Like a number of trailblazing restaurants, including Komi and Minibar by José Andrés, this one makes you wait until the end of dinner for a list of what you ate.
It’s grins all around with the arrival of some snacks. One is a sublime riff on chips and dip, featuring airy tapioca chips and lush spring onion dip. The second finds masa pillows filled with minced leeks, fava beans, chickpeas, jalapeño and lime — basically a goodie bag from the gods.
Devotees of the clever combinations at the four-star Rose’s Luxury will recognize a similar theme at Pineapple and Pearls, except that everything at the new place is “more dressed up,” says Silverman. “Same soul, different outfit.”
Exhibit A is a savory yogurt-filled bonbon teetering on an absinthe spoon above a coupe of fennel juice, green apple, celery and absinthe: a bite and a sip as revivifying as they are regal. The fifth course is delivered by one of four chefs, who shows up with a flame-warmed copper pot of garlicky, Parmesan-enriched consomme. Egg yolk is stirred into the soup, which is then poured over a little garden of spring vegetables. In a later course, white asparagus gets bundled in a crisp rice crepe with chicken mousse and mushroom duxelles, a crisp cigar further embellished with ruffles of bonito flakes. A meat platter brings meltingly tender smoked beef rib, seasoned with mole and escorted with three divine sauces: garlic crema, stinging-nettle salsa verde and an additional mole. Washington steak houses, be afraid.
The hospitality and cooking are matched by the design. The sleek Portuguese utensils are so light you wonder how they stay on the table. Same for the elegant Austrian wine glasses, which are looked after by a full-time polisher. As captivating as the food is, eyes are also drawn to the walls of the 20-seat dining room, where Baltimore artist Jowita Wyszomirska used strings, pins, paint markers and Mylar — plus weather maps of the Chesapeake region — to create a mural that resembles a three-dimensional forest.
Desserts, from pastry chef Kim Janusz, are as novel as anything that precedes them. One of multiple thrills stars pecorino cheese in a cake served with basil gelato, toasted pine nuts and sliced strawberries. Classicists will applaud the warm chocolate souffle paired with honeycomb ice cream; donut worshippers will delight at a parting gift of four tiny doughnuts, each a different flavor, in a carton with a plastic window.
Don’t look to Pineapple and Pearls to dazzle you on the weekend. The restaurant is closed on Saturday and Sunday. Restaurants that are open six days a week, explains the owner, are “really working seven.”
Otherwise, Silverman wants to accommodate everyone at his party. No problem if you’re vegetarian, can’t tolerate gluten or don’t imbibe. The kitchen can tailor the experience to suit your needs. “It’s what we do,” says the chef. (Here’s one of the rare restaurants whose gluten-free breads, including an oat-and-buckwheat roll, rival the regular ones. Even the spread is distinguished, served as the butter is in long ribbons.)
Two hundred fifty dollars is a serious investment for one meal. But when you factor in everything the tab includes, and put it up against similarly priced restaurants, the only lingering question is this: How soon can I do it again?