St. James Modern Caribbean: A New Restaurant Spreads Its Wings

I LOVE chicken wings. They can be fiery Buffalo, sweet and sticky, fried and crispy, grilled, or dry rubbed and smoked. Wings are a blank slate, unique in the way they absorb flavor to represent a specific cuisine or a creative mix of spices, sauce, and technique. While some wing enthusiasts have strong preferences for flats or drummies, I am agnostic. My favorite wings require a pile of napkins to soak up most of the juicy goodness, although stains on my clothing prove that I’ve attained the highest level of satisfaction. 

A visit to St. James Modern Caribbean on 14th Street, NW fulfills my chicken wing dreams. It also reaffirms my deep affection for Caribbean cuisine, which combines African, East Indian, Chinese, Portuguese and French influences. 

St. James is owned by restaurateur Jeanine Prime, who also owns Cane on H Street. The restaurant is a collaboration between Prime, Cane culinary veteran Emma Hernandez, and Chef Alfredo Romero Contreras, previously of Fiola Mare.  They are not winging it. This is a restaurant carefully crafted to bring classic Caribbean dishes infused with modern twists to the table.  

My husband drops me in front of St. James, while he searches for a parking space. I take in the cool vibe, as I am led to a counter seat overlooking the bustiling 14th Street. I scan the QR code and pull the menu up on my phone. Jerk chicken wings are a no brainer, and the perfect prelude to our next stop, which is Studio Theatre for “The Hot Wing King.” The Pulitzer Prize winning play, centered around a chicken wing competition in Memphis, just closed. If it returns, don’t miss it.

I lean further into the Caribbean theme with a cocktail. Pineapple Chow is a blend of Angostura White Oak Trinidadian run, pineapple, culantro, black pepper, and lime. I close my eyes and take a sip, replacing my view of the crowded DC street with images of a sandy beach. My island fantasy gets a lift from the restaurant’s interior, which includes plenty of greenery and a palm frond mural, as well as a lively Caribbean soundtrack.

St. James Pineapple Chow

I am fully in the groove by the time the food arrives. The chicken wings are sublime. Jerk spices. A marinade of green sauce composed of thyme, green onion, garlic, parsley, pimentos, and cilantro. Time spent in a smoker. And to top it off, a cool tamarind mayo sauce for dipping. The meat falls off the bone, and I work hard to capture every morsel. The telltale signs of success lie in the greasy stains on my shirt.

St James jerk chicken wings

My wing man- who does not eat meat- dives into a dish called Coo and Callaloo with fried smelts. Coo Coo is a steamed cornmeal cake made popular in Barbados, while callaloo is a stew made with pureed spinach, chilies, and coconut milk which originated in Trinidad. Fried fish is common throughout the Caribbean. These hearty representations of island cuisine inspire a refined dish that is beautiful and very delicious. I have coo and callaloo envy, but I know I’ll be back to try this and so much more.

St. James Coo and Callaloo with Fried Smelt

A trio of quintessential sides- coconut rice, greens, and plantains – delight us with unanticipated bold flavors. Salt cod crudo amasses heat from vivid dots of unique purees, which escalate in their levels of spice. Use caution on the orange one!

St. James salt cod crudo

The meal at St. James captivates us from start to finish, even though we skip dessert on this outing. We are primed for a return.

Been There, Eaten That turns twelve years old this month. I sometimes wonder why I’m still here, struggling to find time to write a blog about restaurants. I am one of the last ones standing when it comes to maintaining a personal blog to tell my stories. But then I think about restaurants like St. James, which has its own stories to tell.  If this post can get some people through the door- and I hope it does- its a worthwhile effort. So get down to 14th Street, pull up a chair, and start winging it!

 

St. James Modern Caribbean, 2017 14th St. NW, Washington, DC

 

 

 

 

 

 

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