I don’t like slimy or chewy fish. This includes oysters, clams, and mussels. I have tried them on occasion and for now it just isn’t happening. (I’ll never say never). Nonetheless, there is some good buzz out there about Jeff Black’s Pearl Dive Oyster Palace. In fact, it just earned two and a half stars on Washingtonian’s just released list of the “100 Very Best Restaurants.” It’s also mentioned by almost every expert asked on DC Eater’s “Restaurant Eaters Name the Top Newcomers of 2011.”
I peruse the menu online and it looks like there are plenty of choices for me, and a couple of things that my non-shellfish eating husband can have. It seems like the perfect outing for two Jews on a quiet Christmas Eve.
We head downtown early, in case there is a crowd at the no-reservations restaurant. Not only is there no crowd at 6:30 pm but there is parking on 14th Street, directly across from Pearl Dive. We’re starting off on the right foot.
Pearl Dive has the distressed-decor thing going on. Walls and floors with peeled paint. Funky lights. It feels comfortable and cool.
I begin with a cocktail called the Pearl Cup made with Pimms, Plymouth Gin, Cucumber, Lime, Mint, House Ginger Beer. I am a lightweight when it comes to cocktails and this deliciously refreshing drink packs a punch.
I order barbecue shrimp as an appetizer. The menu description says “garlic bread, messy fingers.” Indeed, these are finger-licking good. They are prepared with a dry rub of paprika and deglazed with Worcester sauce and beer. The tangy, salty, and spicy flavors topping the plump and juicy shrimp is what puts this on my “top appetizers of the year” list. (I don’t really have such a list, but if I did this would be there).
|Pearl Dive barbecue shrimp|
My husband has local butter lettuce salad with apples, Great Hill blue cheese, spiced pecans, and cider-brown butter vinaigrette. Simple ingredients, done well.
|Pearl Dive butter lettuce salad|
Reviews have extolled the virtues of Pearl Dive’s Pennsylvania Amish Chicken dinner. I consider a gumbo but the fried chicken is calling to me. I am glad that I heed the call. Braised in wine before frying, the skin is crispy and the chicken moist. The accompanying potatoes, greens, and slaw may sound like standard fare but the taste is far from standard. I think it’s a great value at $19. I have enough leftovers for two more meals.
|Pearl Dive fried chicken|
My husband has redfish with sage pecan butter and stone grits. He finds the crispy skin a delectable treat which makes the dish a standout. He’s also a fan of the creamy grits.
|Pearl Dive redfish|
We’re both stuffed, but not having dessert is out of the question. As soon as we hear about the eggnog pie, we’re sold. We agree that the eggnog flavor could have been a bit stronger, but the texture of the pie is smooth, creamy, and irresistible. The gingerbread men are pretty cute, too.
|Pearl Dive eggnog pie|
Any doubts about coming to Pearl Dive Oyster Palace as non-oyster eaters have vanished. Yes, I admit that I am a little curious when I hear nearby servers animatedly describing the oyster varieties. And maybe I am a bit envious of our neighboring diners who seem to be thoroughly enjoying their oyster experience. But I have yet to be persuaded to like mollusks and I’m not ready to start now. Pearl Dive Oyster Palace has many other jewels on the menu. For now, I’m sticking with them.
Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, 1612 14th Street, NW, Washington, DC
My rating (on a 1-5 scale): 4.4