Oyster Oyster: Cultivating Fans Amidst a Changing Landscape

When I suggest to friends that we dine at Oyster Oyster they look at me quizzically. The couple recently adopted a vegan diet, and this may not sound like the ideal spot for their first foray back to dining out. I launch into an ardent promotional pitch, explaining the vegetable-forward concept of the restaurant.

The fact is, I’m wild about Oyster Oyster. The name stems from a tribute to bivalve mollusks and oyster mushrooms, each sustainable and environmentally friendly, which is what drives every aspect of this DC restaurant.

Oyster Oyster is clearly a passion project for its owners, Chef Rob Rubba (formerly of Hazel) and Restaurateur Max Kuller (Estadio).  They are both vegetarians who took the seed of an idea and nurtured it to fruition. Some may question the inclusion of  oysters in an otherwise vegetarian/vegan menu. It’s not so far-fetched. In addition to the ecological benefits, oysters lack a central nervous system, and therefore are considered to have no ability to think and feel.

Regardless of where you stand in terms of your dietary practices, Oyster Oyster will boost your appreciation for food that is micro-seasonal, hyper-local, vegetable-centric, and super-sustainable.

The restaurant was scheduled to open in March 2020 in the Shaw neighborhood of DC. Obviously, this timing wasn’t meant to be, so Rubba and his wife Deb pivoted with a bagel pop-up called Scrappy’s. Once permits were granted in July 2020, Oyster Oyster began to offer takeout from its new location. There was pizza with crust made from organic wheat flour and topped with the season’s best local products. Patrons went crazy for the cheesesteak which features marinated mushrooms, caramelized onions, pickled peppers, and cheese or vegan sunflower seed whiz, on rolls baked inhouse.

Four course tasting menus for two were available Thursdays through Sundays.  It was heartening to see the chef finally able to execute his vision for Oyster Oyster, even if it would take almost a full year before it could be fully realized.

My first taste of Oyster Oyster is in midsummer 2020. I dig into a slice of pizza topped with chanterelle mushrooms and corn, which elicits a resounding crunch.  My enjoyment of pizza is affected by the decibels measured when I bite into the crust. This passes the test with flying colors. Corn evokes summer, sunshine, and smiles, and finding it atop a pizza gives me all the feels.  I don’t expect to fall in love with eggplant schnitzel, but it’s light and crispy, and the sauce of smoked sunflower seeds and kohlrabi is heavenly.

Oyster Oyster eggplant schnitzel. Photo by Deb Rubba

Heirloom tomatoes with cucumbers, husk cherry salsa, and coriander capers captivates me with its extraordinarily fresh flavors.  This 2020 meal is an all-out celebration of summer, enjoyed at a time when finding joy in restaurant food cannot be taken for granted.

Oyster Oyster heirloom tomato salad

When we pick up a meal from the restaurant in autumn, we are delighted by carrots with smoky eggplant and fennel. Koginut squash stuffed with foraged mushrooms and local grains captures the season so perfectly, it seems almost a shame to disturb the artistry.

Oyster Oyster Koginut Squash

Rubba honors every ingredient – most plucked from local farms- with creativity and respect.  Dishes can change rapidly. What appears on the menu one week may be replaced, at least in part, shortly thereafter with something equally fresh and delicious.

“To think there are only four seasons is foolish, especially in the region we live in,” says Chef Rubba. “I always say, you have to grow food to know food. To know the life cycles of plants to be able to use them to their fullest. We hone in on these micro-seasons so we can showcase these ingredients at their very best.”

When I visit Oyster Oyster this past Memorial Day weekend with my vegan friends, the restaurant is about to close to prepare for indoor dining and the launch of a new tasting menu. Now that my friends fully understand the concept, they are elated at the thought of dining here. Due to weather, we eat inside and get a sneak peek at the full experience.

There is nothing I enjoy more than introducing people to a restaurant I love, and watching their adulation take hold. Our meal at Oyster Oyster is accompanied by a series of exclamation points which begins anew each time a dish is set before us, and is repeated as the flavors of the food is fully realized.

We adore the earthiness of roasted bolero carrots with benne, fennel, and sorghum.

Oyster Oyster Roasted Carrots

We marvel at the play on lasagna, fashioned from pickled kohlrabi with morels, nettles, chive blossoms, and topped with fresh cheese or a vegan alternative.

Oyster Oyster kohlrabi

There is soup with marinated asparagus, roasted mushrooms with green garlic and Coco Rubico beans, and a finale that blends strawberry and rhubarb.

Wines that are sustainable, organic and biodynamic are curated by Wine Director, Sarah Horvitz. She is our server for the evening, and her zeal for the wine and food further ignites our enthusiasm.

Oyster Oyster opened fully last month in their 28-seat indoor space with a 6-course tasting menu dubbed Solstice. The cost is $70 per person. Innovative creations incorporate celeriac, tomatoes, peas, poached kohlrabi, squash, and berries. As summer blazes on, dishes will be adapted accordingly, with a new menu likely to appear soon. Also on the horizon- the Oyster Garage – featuring its own unique concept and offerings.

As the dust settles from the pandemic, it’s time to look ahead. I predict that Oyster Oyster will mushroom in popularity and continue to bloom with every changing season.

 

Oyster Oyster, 1440 8th Street, NW, Washington, DC

 

 

Thip Khao: Rising Above

As life slowly returns to normal, albeit in a modified way, when it comes to dining, I feel like a cicada emerging from the ground. I’m fully vaccinated but trying to determine what this means in terms of my relationship with restaurants. Neighborhood drops are still happening- and I hope this is a trend that […]

Time to March on from Febru-weary with Neighborhood Drops & Food Trucks

It was one tough February. Ice, snow, and too many days that were downright dreary. Can we just rename the month Febru-weary? As we catch a break with some warmer days, there’s a light at the end of this long, dark tunnel.  Aren’t we all ready to March forward? The winter weather dampened my enthusiasm […]

Ema Rossi Pizzeria Napoletana: Driving Forces

As the pandemic continues to necessitate restaurant takeout, my car has become an outpost dining room. Seeds from everything bagels line the creases of the leather seats. Donut crumbs and tiny flecks of fried chicken skin can be detected on the carpet. These morsels are wiped away from week to week, but they are swiftly […]

Anju, Ghostburger, Yellow the Cafe: Let There Be Light!

It’s getting darker earlier. It’s colder outside. Restaurant owners are understandably anxious about how they will survive the winter.  Optimism and action in these pandemic times is essential. These past weeks I have filled much of my spare time lying prostrate on the couch, engrossed in CNN, MSNBC, and television shows that I consider anti-anxiety […]

Ristorante i Ricchi: Dust Off Your Passport

I came across my passport the other day. My heart lurched, and I sighed so loudly that I startled myself. How long will it be before I can use it again? These days a thrilling journey is getting in my car and driving downtown to dine on a restaurant patio, which I’ve only done a […]

Counting My Blessings: 10 Years of Been There, Eaten That

This week marks the ten-year anniversary of Been There, Eaten That. Writing this restaurant blog has often been anxiety-inducing, frustrating, even maddening, but ultimately it’s been rewarding. While I’m slowing down in more ways than one, I still care deeply about supporting restaurants and for better or worse, articulating my feelings online. It’s a weird […]

Questions or comments?
Send an email to lorisue6@gmail.com