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The images are etched into Nick Wiseman's memory as clearly as the photo of Crisfield Seafood Restaurant that still hangs in his parents' Washington home: The twice-monthly dinners at the historic Silver Spring seafood house where Wiseman and his family would devour oysters, clams, crabs and other fruits of the sea.
It was a family tradition, in fact, dating back to when Wiseman's grandfather owned a hardware store in Silver Spring and "frequented Crisfield's all the time."
"A lot of the shuckers have been there for years and years and years," Wiseman says during a phone interview, "and know us on a first-name basis. It's that personal neighborhood feel that was really inspiring about Crisfield's."
Wiseman and his cousin, David Wiseman, owners of DGS Delicatessen near Dupont Circle, hope to create those kind of memories for Washingtonians with their latest project: Whaley's, a small raw bar and restaurant located, appropriately enough, next to the Anacostia River in the Yards development. Whaley's, named after an 18th-century naval commander who protected the lower Chesapeake Bay from British privateers, will offer shellfish towers, crudos and seafood dishes.
The Wisemans have a long relationship to seafood that far surpasses their frequent stops at Crisfield or other oysters bars along the East Coast. Nick Wiseman remembers going to Baltimore markets for crab cakes or the Maine Avenue wharf, where he'd pick up bushels of blue crabs to steam at home. He even recalls tying chicken necks to strings and catching crabs on the Eastern Shore.
It was "certainly lo-fi, but it works," Wiseman says of improvised crabbing technique. "We'd come back after a long day and feed our family."
While nostalgia and tradition may have inspired them to create Whaley's, the Wiseman cousins are careful to point out they are not recreating the past for future diners. Their goal is to bring "that food into a format that's exciting for diners today," Nick Wiseman says. "I think that's sort of the premise of Whaley's and certainly was behind DGS," their modern homage to traditional Jewish delis.
Housed in the renovated Lumber Shed, once a vital part of the Washington Navy Yard, Whaley's will feature a 40-seat dining room and 20-seat bar amid soaring 35-foot ceilings, all designed by Edit Lab at Streetsense. Located next to Osteria Morini (Nick Wiseman once worked for chef Michael White, the co-owner of the restaurant group that owns Morini), Whaley's doesn't plan to focus exclusively on Mid-Atlantic seafood. The owners will serve only sustainable seafood, wherever it may be found.
The cousins plan to feature swordfish, black bass, bluefish and even blue catfish, that invasive species of the Chesapeake. Part of Whaley's mission, Nick Wiseman says, will be to explain to diners where each fish was caught — and who caught it.
"We certainly want to feature the bounty of Virginia [oysters] because there is so much right here," he adds. "But also we don't want to limit ourselves to the region." Some oysters outside the Chesapeake are better at different times of the year, he adds.
Speaking of seasonality, even though Nick Wiseman has high hopes for the Capitol Riverfront District, he's not naive about the seasonal nature of the neighborhood.
"It's a place that, in the summer, it's booming, and we have to be special enough that people want to come in the winter," he says. "We're trying to design a restaurant that can do that."
Whaley's will open this spring in the Lumber Shed at the Yards, 301 Water St. SE, www.whaleysdc.com. At launch, Whaley's will be open for dinner only.