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BlackSalt Restaurant and Fishmarket


zoramargolis
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Joe your stew was quite delectable; your unique garlic bread really added a nice quality to it. You even got my wife to eat bivalves for the first time in a dozen years. After that dinner, it will be worth while to take her to Black Salt so that she can try some more variations on those shelled delights. Hopefully, the next crab cake I have there will be better than that all-filler abomination that I had at our lunch.

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Thanks, Steve. I really appreciate the nice words. (I once paid a girl $5.00 to eat an oyster in high school. Two dozen later she told me that she felt guilty for eating all of them and not sharing.) I went back to Black Salt last week with six others and unlike the first lunch (their third day) this was extraordinary. Jeff Black was in the kitchen, too. I think this is why Sietsema visits a restaurant three or four times or more before writing a review. Our first lunch was their third day of luncheon operation and several had called in sick. A later dinner and the recent lunch were extraordinary.

Still, to be honest, with my wife having ordered crab cakes at our last lunch I think this may be their weakest dish. Carol is used to the Narrows, Angelina's, Jerry's, Suicide Bridge, the Cove (Crisfield) etc. Black Salt's strengths lie elsewhere as does Kinkead's and almost all DC restaurants with the exception of the Prime Rib.

I'm really anxious to taste his Portuguese seafood stew now.

By the way the garlic bread was the same garlic bread that Maria's 300 used to make in the early '70's in Little Italy, i.e. for two loaves of Cardinal Italian bread I use 3/4 lb of unsalted butter, one head of minced garlic, grated Reggiano to cover all, dried oregano, hot pepper flakes and caraway seed. Maria's claimed to have served it to Al Capone in the late '20's and never to have changed their recipe. Well, they're gone now (IRS) but it's still the best garlic bread I've had; it's just that nobody takes the time to make it like this anymore.

Seriously, thanks for the kind words. Much appreciated!

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I once paid a girl $5.00 to eat an oyster in high school.

I ... must ... control ... myself ....

(Should have paid her to eat a clam - then it could have been known as The Blair Ipswich Project) :laugh:

I went back to Black Salt last week with six others and unlike the first lunch (their third day) this was extraordinary.  Jeff Black was in the kitchen, too. 

Which is perhaps why my meal at Addie's last week was decent, but nothing special. Does anyone know who is in charge of what these days at Jeff Black's four restaurants?

Color me prudent, but I prefer to err on the side of long-term skepticism when a restaurant group goes from two to four restaurants in just a few short months.

Will he still be in the kitchen in 2006? I feel an almost urgent need to go to Black's Alt now, while the gittin' is still good.

Stay tuned...

RockSalt.

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Will he still be in the kitchen in 2006?  I feel an almost urgent need to go to Black's Alt now, while the gittin' is still good.

Stay tuned...

RockSalt.

Jeff was in the kitchen the night we went. He came out to say hello and work the room.

Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.

Mark Twain (1835 - 1910)

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We had a very good dinner at Blacksalt last night. Most of the dishes we had were excellent, while the two soups we tried… well, as Jon Stewart would say, not so much.

No tables were available, so we sat at the bar. We started with a couple of selections from the ‘small plates’ section of the menu:

White Anchovy with tomato confit, cornichon, olive oil and brioche.

Two plump anchovies, each one sitting on a short stack of the aforementioned ingredients. Delicious combination of sharp, sweet, sour, with a bit of crunch from the cornichon. My husband and I both love anchovies, and agreed this was a version we would definitely order again.

Masa Harina Crusted Oyster with sour orange-tupelo honey mojo.

I’m told masa harina is a type of corn flour, which is a wonderfully crisp coating for the oysters. This dish is a keeper. The mix of sour orange and honey a good complement to the fried oysters and one that I had not tried before.

We also had an order of mussels. Blacksalt offers several versions. I don’t know how often they change, but last night the options were Thai, Moroccan, Spanish, Vietnamese or Addie’s – shallot, garlic, tomato and lemon – which I assume is the version served his restaurant on Rockville Pike.

We ordered the Thai version, which includes coconut milk, kaffir lime, green chile and opal basil. The mussels were some of the biggest and most flavorful I’ve had, at least in Washington, and the broth was the kind that inspires you to keep reaching for the bread so as to enjoy every drop.

From the menu’s appetizer section, we ordered the fried Ipswich clams, served with madras aioli and romesco.

Yes, two orders of fried seafood is probably overkill, but years ago I used to live a few miles from Ipswich and sometimes still dream of the fried clams I had there. So what’s a girl to do when these are on the menu? Besides, the chefs at Blacksalt know how to fry. These are whole belly clams - sweet and juicy, with a crisp cornmeal crust that crunches when you bite into each clam. The curry spiked aioli was an excellent accompaniment and the romesco was so good that when the clams were gone, we used it as a dip for our bread. (The bread, by the way, comes from Marvelous Market for now, but the bartender said eventually the restaurant would make its own.)

Then we ordered two soups. The Manila clam and Chinicoteague Oyster Stew with applewood bacon, leeks, Yukon gold potatoes, and oyster cream.

This is one of those times when the description sounds better than the dish tastes. At least that was the case last night. The broth was kind of bland – but at the same time it was overpowered by too many herbs strewn about. Somehow the flavor clams and oysters didn't come through the way you would think.

The other soup we ordered was a special: Cranberry Bean Soup with Percorino Romano, Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Tuna ‘Bresaola’.

This dish unfortunately did not work for me. The tomato-based broth fought with the overly salty strip of dried tuna for domination, and the poor cranberry beans, carrots and olive oil got lost in the shuffle. (Bresaola is an Italian air cured beef, so I’m assuming this was cured tuna), I should have been suspicious when I saw cheese combined with fish in a dish that seemed to be presented as Italian. :unsure:

To end on a high note, we decided to order a few raw oysters for dessert. We tried two kinds, the names of which escape me. One was from Washington State and was very good. The other was from British Columbia – I think the word Creek was involved – and these were outstanding. They were quite large and had almost a buttery flavor to go along with the taste of the sea.

They have a good selection of wines by the glass, and they give you the option of ordering a small pour (4 oz) or a regular pour. We opted for the smaller pours since we wanted the chance to try a few different wines throughout the meal. I forgot to write down the names of the wines, of course. Their regular wine list looks intriguing – and they offer quite a number of half bottles. The bartender who served us was friendly and knowledgable and more than willing to talk to us about wine pairings.

Overall, I would definitely recommend trying Blacksalt. Based on one lunch and one dinner, my husband and I both would give high ratings to the majority of dishes we tried. I’m not ready to declare it one of the city’s best restaurants. But it is a very welcome addition, especially in an area of the city that could definitely use more good restaurants.

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I finally made it to Black Salt sort of on a whim last night.

We arrived around 8:30 or so (without a reservation) and ended up waiting about twenty minutes for a nice airy deuce in the back part of the dinning room. The bar seems like a nice place to hang while waiting for a table, but the low light at the booths and the privacy of the corner tables in the back is a much more inviting place to eat.

The food was wonderful and absolutely exceeded my expectations, and the place was packed until the very end of the meal. The menu is much more extensive than I imagined; creative and more Asian-influenced in a lot of saucing, etc.

Anyway, service was friendly and young, and several of the server's suggestions that we took, were spot-on.

To drink, we stuck with the '03 Etude Pinot Noir (I believe the 7oz. pour is $16), which made nice sipping with

most of what I ate.

Here is what was sampled:

Small Plates

(prices ranging from $3-6.)

Certified Organic Salmon Paillard

Hazelnut Emulsion, Herb Oil

$5.

This was a very clean and delicate piece of salmon, perfectly cooked. The emulsion was thick, but not over-seasoned, just complimenting such a soft piece of fish. I really like this and highly recommend it at $5.

Wood Roasted Shiitake Mushrooms

Red Wine Vinegar, Imperial Republic

Extra Virgin Tea Oil

$4.

These have to be some of the best lonesome shiitakes I've had in a long time. There are only four of them on the plate, so they go fast, and be sure have enough of that Marvelous Market baguette to dip into the sauce before you let go of that plate.

Serrano Ham Wrapped White Shrimp

Ajo Blanco

$3. each

This was my favorite small plate of the three, mostly because I could taste exactly how fresh that shrimp was. It was so nice and velvety, and each piece was immense ...and what's not to like about Serrano ham?

Likewise, the ajo blanco (a white gazpacho of sorts made with almonds and garlic, I think) was legit.

Appetizers

($6-14)

Yellowfin Tuna Tian Japanese Cucumber, Papaya

Asian Pear, Mirin-Yuzu Migonette

$13.

This was quite good. I could taste the care that had gone into every step of getting that tuna on the plate; it was fresh and very high quality. The preparation itself was what it sounds like; clean, refreshing, pretty traditional. And the portion was ample for $13.

Wild Rockfish Cheek, Foie Gras, Yukon Gold Potato Gaufrette

Ver Jus Butter Sauce

$14

If you eat meat, you'll like this. A generous portion of seared foie gras, pillowed between two pieces of fluffy rockfish perched on a nice gaufrette of potatoes. Fish was just right, foie gras made the dish rich and hearty. It reminded me of something I might get at Pesce.

Additional Appetizers from Market Specials portion of menu, which changes daily:

Grilled Blue Nose

Peruvian Purple Potato Puree, Green Chile-Citrus Salsa

$11.

I loved the Peruvian purple potato puree. Do purple potatoes have a unique flavor? They were nice and buttery with a more gritty texture, and they totally livened up the fish. Altogether a very tasty combination.

Foie Gras au Torchon

Pear Conserve, White Balsamic Gastrique

(might have been $14)

This, though not at all bad, was my least favorite. The pear was a little too conserve-y for my taste; just a tad less savory than I might have liked. My friend liked this dish a lot, though, so it's matter of preference in this case.

Desserts

Trio of Creme Brulee

Pistachio, Citrus and Cinnamon Chocolate

with a house made biscotti

I'm usually not too critical of creme brulee, tasty, but maybe we should have split a main instead of dessert. All the desserts are plated really thoughtfully, by the way. Lots of styling and garnishing; it's hard not to be curious and order it anyway.

Apple Cranberry Bread Pudding

This was lovely, all of it's anti-South Beach ingredients did their job and made me very happy.

I'm looking forward to returning and trying some of the stews, mussels, and the scallops that looked tremendous. The nice thing for regulars is that they have about seven Market Specials each day (soups, appetizers and mains), so even if you get to know the whole menu, there's always something new.

One thing I do have to say: the sinks in the bathroom are minuscule. Someone please back me up on this...

Edited by morela (log)

...

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We made it to Blacksalt for dinner on Jan. 1. (They also were open Sun., Jan. 2. Way to go, guys!) All in all, we were pretty impressed -- a two-star (out of four) kind of place, with potential for more.

The positives: 1) As mentioned elsewhere, the fish and seafood are of impeccable quality. The Nantucket Bay scallops that I served as a ceviche for our New Year's Eve dinner were the hit of the evening. 2) The menu says that diners can ask the chef to create a dish from any item in the retail display case. I requested something with grilled squid. Despite being slammed, he put together a very tasty Asian-themed app. 3) Good wine list, with small or large pours by the glass, including two of my reliable favorites, Steele Chardonnay and Argyle Pinot Noir Reserve. We brought a dinner and a dessert wine but were charged only one corkage fee ($15). I don't know if this was policy, an oversight, or because we ordered a lot of food, but hey, I'm not complaining. 4) Friendly and efficient service 95% of the time, even with the place being full. 5) $3 at the retail store for an individual serving of chocolate-chestnut mousse bombe; it's da bomb.

The negatives: 1) The space felt cramped when full, less so after it started emptying. I'd recommend a table in the back alcove or one of the booths. 2) When I made the reservation, I requested and was led to believe that we would be seated at one of the booths. We we arrived for dinner and the booth was occupied, we were told that specific table requests are only on an "if available" basis. 3) The lobster tails at the retail market (and, I assume, at the restaurant), came in from Brazil. They were good, as lobster tails go, but still not worth the price tag.

One thing I do have to say: the sinks in the bathroom are minuscule. Someone please back me up on this...

I have minuscule hands, so I didn't notice. Sorry.

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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You say two stars out of four. I firmly believe this is a serious contender for four stars. Yet in your comments you say virtually nothing about what you ordered other than a request for grilled squid or lobster tails (carryout?) and disappointment with not having a booth. Having had virtually his entire menu at this point over four visits I would like to know specifically what you had and your reaction to the specific dishes. Did you have his fried calamari or fried whole belly clams? Clam chowder, shrimp bisque? Any of the six mussel preparations which are all on par with the best in Bruxelles? Portuguese seafood chowder? Zarzuela? Filet mignon of tuna? The simple but superb tiramisu in a Martini glass? Why would you ask for a special preparation of a dish in a restaurant you are visiting for the first time? What DID you have? You only note one dish yet maintain "a two star kind of place."

This is a serious addition to D. C., easily on par with Kinkead's at its absolute best. I'm sorry, but it is a real discredit and truly misleading to say this is worth only two stars. I strongly, STRONGLY disagree. I think their now three week wait for reservations on Friday and Saturday speak to the perception of overall exceptional excellence that the general public has reacted to. I also am a serious amateur cook and have personal respect for the effort that goes into long cooked and reduced stocks for soups, stews and sauces, for sourcing impeccibly fresh fish and shellfish, for the effort that a truly talented pastry chef puts in and what shows up on my plate from her long hours of effort. Black Salt is exemplery. If you are going to "slam" it with a pedestrian two star evaluation then go into specifics about the particular dish you had and why you feel it should be considered as such. Many of their dishes I will directly challenge you on for their excellence; I can't help but wonder if you actually had dinner at this restaurant.

Black Salt may be casual and have a neighborhood feel but on the plate it has much of the excellence of Le Bernardin.

I should also note that my reaction to your post will cause some to feel that I am "bullying" you and not allowing you your own opinions. Yet I cannot help but react as I am having sampled so much of what this restaurant offers. I also cannot dismiss the efforts of those in the kitchen without knowing in detail why you feel the way you do. If you feel their fried calamari or clams are "two star" then WHERE would you go for something better? Essex, MA, Milano, where? Who prepares shrimp bisque with more depth of flavor, has a better Portugeuese stew? I make this and have a tremendous amount of respect for their effort, knowing the complexity and time that it takes to make this dish. I'm sorry but I just can't let what I consider to be a slight, "two star kind of place" pass so easily for the many who read this board.

Edited by Joe H (log)
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I can't help but wonder if you actually had dinner at this restaurant.

Joe, I can see questioning someone's opinion about a restaurant, but I can't see questioning the truthfulness of someone's post like that. It wasn't as if this was a "This place sucks" type of post - he included a lot of detail.

I haven't been to BlackSalt yet (I do have reservations in two weeks) but, regardless of the level of cooking, is it really a "four-star" type of place with all the trappings - service, decor, even price? If it's max is really three stars and it isn't quite fulfilling its potential, wouldn't that make it a two-star? This isn't that different from a place like CityZen getting "only" three stars even though it has the potential to get four eventually.

It is the rare restaurant that is ready to get its full complement of stars early on in its life.

But however you fall on the question, you shouldn't personally attack other users.

Edited by bilrus (log)

Bill Russell

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It has the food of a four star, not the style. The "review" went into virtually no detail about the food they had. For the comment "two star" type of place I would like to know specifically why it is that? Simply, I know that when I have certain dishes and they are excellent, for someone else to say they are less, well they are entitled to their opinion. Of course. But I would really like to know specifically what he had and where, specifically, he would direct me for a better version of a particular dish.

It's not just that I've eaten at so many places around the U. S. I have. But I also cook myself, seriously. What I've been served at Black Salt, almost without exception, is superb. When I see a review that is really a slam (contradicting my earlier posts and evaluating a step above merely "good") I cannot help but question specifics which have been overlooked. At some level it is about my own credibility. At another level it is respect for the effort of those in the kitchen and what they are doing.

This is a serious restaurant and I cannot overstate my respect for the effort, and our good fortune to have it here. But he said very little about what he had IN the restaurant for dinner. The review immediately above his went into a great deal of detail in their comments. Detail about each individual course. For me it is easy to compare my opinions and values to their's. I may disagree but at least I know WHY they didn't like a particular dish or as much as I. For the person who said "two star kind of place" I have absolutely no idea what their standards are or what their taste is other than they recognize it's a fairly casual restaurant and have an impression that a "four star" restaurant should be elegant (which I think is wrong).

For me, four stars can be on the plate. Maestro, Laboratorio, Citronelle, The Inn-I personally add Black Salt to this list as I would have added Kinkead's in its prime.

Last, why is questioning whether or not he actually had dinner IN the restaurant a personal attack? Read his comments again. There is virtually no discussion of the food that was served IN the restaurant other than one special dish which he requested. There is nothing in his comments for me to compare my opinions to despite my having had much of their menu at this point. I am asking a serious, sincere question: DID he have dinner in the restaurant? I believe this is a valid question. Certainly, as valid as the impression left from the comment"a two star kind of place" for the casual reader.

There is also another possibility here. And it is epistemelogical since his definition of a "four star kind of place" could incorporate ambience, style, Moser crystal, Herend china, teams of servers as the definition for a four star. If this were true-that style, ambience, elegance and such are part of the precondition for a four star then his valuation is "bang on." Black Salt is a long way from, say, Maestro. My intention in my original post and the subsequent ones has been focused exclusively on food and taste with little regard for elegance or ceremony. Still, even the best bbq joint I've been to (Skylight Inn or Luling City Market) would not be a four star. There is just something lacking for both; yet they would still be a three star. Even with the knife attached to the link chain hanging from the picnic table. But Black Salt, for me, has enough of a wine list (very good sommelier, too) and enough enthusiasm, friendliness and warmth to compensate for crystal, sterling silver and flared nostrils. Realistically, Tom Sietsema will probably give this three stars. But I really think it has a legitimate claim to four based on the plate and the overall enthusiasm which for me is everpresent. Personally, if I were reviewing it, I would give it four stars.

Edited by Joe H (log)
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Joe, I will offer just this one reply, and I will try to respond to the content of your posts and not the tone. As I said more than once in my first post, I ate dinner there, along with Ms. Alex and my cousins, both food and wine enthusiasts who have dined at Kinkeads, Galileo, Citronelle, etc. multiple times. We had an assortment of starters, including the crusted oysters, white anchovies, sardines, and cheeks/foie gras. The oysters were an absolute delight of taste, texture, and temperature contrasts; the anchovies were disappointing (I love white anchovies, but the presentation with the cornichon and olive oil just didn't do it for me); I did not taste the sardines; my cousin loved the cheeks/foie gras (accompanied by a glass of 1985 Yquem, which the rest of us saved for after the meal) but I found it monochromatic (if that makes sense) on the palate. To your puzzling question, "Why would you ask for a special preparation of a dish in a restaurant you are visiting for the first time?", I answer, "Because it was offered on the menu."

For an entrée I had the Bourride, which, as you said, was as good as I've had anywhere (better, actually); everyone else ordered the lobster. The pastry chef's care and talent clearly showed in the two chocolate desserts that we split. You are correct that I didn't mention most of the dishes specifically. The intent of the post was to follow up on an earlier one and to give my overall impressions, not to report in detail. I'm sorry you perceived it differently, but I believe that my saying it was a "two-star kind of place" clearly was only my impression from just one visit and was not intended to represent a comprehensive review.

It also certainly was not a slam, as I think is quite clear from the post's content, for example, "All in all, we were pretty impressed." And yes, I do know the amount of skill and effort that goes into producing a menu the quality of BlackSalt's. As bilrus mentioned, though, I also believe that a four-star restaurant needs to deliver the whole package -- food, service, decor, ambience -- in spades. I did not experience that at BlackSalt. You disagree with that approach, which is fine; that's what this site is about. However, I think you may experience more reasonable discussions if you do not call it "wrong." It also may help if you do not cast aspersions on others' integrity without presenting reasonable evidence to back it up.

Perhaps this subjectivity, and the emotional reaction it sometimes engenders, exemplifies a key problem with the "star" system. In fact, I never used stars or any other ranking system in my restaurant reviews (eight years in Detroit and Grand Rapids). I included it in my first post only as a point of reference, having immersed myself in reviews from the The Washington Post in preparation for my visit to DC and in those from the Chicago Tribune when I visited Chicago. Still, as bilrus also said, "If its max is really three stars and it isn't quite fulfilling its potential, wouldn't that make it a two-star?" That's where I was coming from.

My cousins fully intend to return there, as do I when I next visit.

Edited slightly for clarity.

Edited by Alex (log)

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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"However, I think you may experience more reasonable discussions if you do not call it "wrong." It also may help if you do not cast aspersions on others' integrity without presenting reasonable evidence to back it up."

I reacted as I did similar to the way you reacted to me. If you scroll back you'll note that I am the first person to rave about this restaurant. I have three or four posts on here, talking at length about its excellence. Your initial comment of "a two star kind of place" without any detail about the dinner other than one off the menu course sparked this.

My wife and I often differ about whether the exact same dish is even good or bad. But I respect her taste and her opinions because I know that she actually tried what I did. I did not read that in your initial post. I read it three or four times before I responded and felt that you were making a statement that was not based on having experienced the restaurant sitting in its dining room. Now, understanding what you meant by the "two star kind of place" comment, I understand that I was wrong to interpret your comments as I did. I suspect that some others reacted similar to myself and, probably, some reacted as you intended. Still, I felt the need to defend/explain myself as well as note the efforts of the restaurant's excellence.

In any event I suspect that our reactions were similar to each other yet for very different reasons. Neither of us thought the other was being fair, neither of us thought the other was explaining what seemed to be a judgment.

I accept that I was too strong in some of what I said. Although I understand why I did write what I did, now, knowing your intentions and "star system" I now view your comments differently. From that perspective I was wrong.

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I accept that I was too strong in some of what I said.  Although I understand why I did write what I did, now, knowing your intentions and "star system" I now view your comments differently.  From that perspective I was wrong.

It's not likely that everyone will agree on how many stars, particularly given the imprecision of such a system. FWIW, I would award three stars. In my view, it surpasses the Sietsema two-star places I have been to.

It could not reach a four in my book, because that's reserved for the whole package -- absolute first rate cooking, presentation and service. We might have two or three of those in the whole city.

BlackSalt isn't intended to compete on that level. But, what it sets out to do, it does very very well. That is serve really great fish in a manner that enhances the fish, all in a fun and relaxed atrmosphere. It is no small feat to acquire and cook these raw materials well. I give them high marks for their ability to source the materials as well as to cook them.

Maybe if we had more great casual restaurants like BlackSalt (San Francisco seems to be full of them), it would stand out less. I'd hope to see the day when that came about. Right now, we have polarization -- a large number of crummy and cheap restaurants, and a goodly number of froofy expense account places. That's why we get such a huge response on the BlackSalts and Fireflies. There's a huge middle, waiting to be served with great food in a relaxed atmosphere.

Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.

Mark Twain (1835 - 1910)

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Black Salt IS an attempt for the highest level from the perspective of what goes on the plate. Frankly, for me, the fact that it's essentially neighborhood casual is a plus. I would imagine for some, walking in off the street and knowing nothing about this restaurant, they would be floored by how good it is in relation to their expectations. I agree that DC does not have nearly as many first rate restaurants as NY or SF. But having said this I think that Black Salt is on par with Aqua when the chef/owner was still there before his move to Vegas. Not in style, but for what is on the plate. The analogy I used in my first comments (near the start of this thread) was to Flying Fish in Seattle whose chef won a regional James Beard Award.

The discussion of definition of a four star restaurant is an interesting one since there are varying definitions of what constitutes one. I am guessing that Tom Sietsema will agree with you that part of the definition is service, silverware, china, etc. I've noted on here on the Int'l board about dinners that I had last year in Germany's Black Forest at the three Michelin star Schwarzwaldstube and the two Michelin star Bareiss where this was the finest I've ever experienced anywhere. Wine service at Bareiss included E 600 Portugeuse (Topazio) decanters and Riedel Sommelier bordeaux glasses. For this level I believe that Michelin EXPECTS a minimum standard of wine service and table settings along with correct placement of silverware, it's timely removal, serving from the right, etc. There is a very real level of luxury inherent in this that costs the restaurant a great deal of money and effort just to attempt to qualify for the third star.

Maestro comes closest to realizing this here yet to realize the third star would probably necessitate having a second sommelier to assist Vincent. My guess is that realistically Maestro would have two stars. I would also guess that Citronelle would have two as would The Inn at Little Washington. (Three Michelin starred restaurants usually have service tables for each pair or three tables in a dining room. These tables, also, are oversized such as having two seated at a "fourtop" and four at a table for six. Also, most Michelin three stars have from 8 to 15 tables often with no more than 25 or 30 dining at one time. As many as 10 or 12 will be in the kitchen cooking for this number and six to eight in the dining room, serving. Both Citronelle and Maestro have ten or eleven in the kitchen-cooking for as many as 90 seats, approximately double the number or more of seats in the Michelin three stars.) Laboratorio would probably have one since it lacks the luxury and style of the previous three yet what goes on the plate is equal to any-anywhere. (four or five including Roberto with probably an average of 25 in the Lab at one sitting) I think Black Salt, in its second year, would have one star for the same reason.

I say all this and use the Michelin analogy since it is a specific part of their evaluation and criteria for their top level.

It is possible that Sietsema, the New York Times (which has a four star system also), etc. will include this as part of their evaluation allowing the Michelin values to color their perception.

But El Bulli is not elegant. Arguably, Canada's best restaurant is Eiginsinn Farm, literally a farm house 100 miles north of Toronto. For years one of the two or three best restaurants in Los Angeles was Chinois on Main. Chinois is as casual as Black Salt. Laboratorio is unique: it has four stars from Sietsema yet is totally dissimilar from Maestro, more casual if you will.

For me I believe that Black Salt is as good as Kinkead's when Kinkead's was at its best five or six years ago. Kinkead's then was certainly not elegant. There was nothing in common with a dozen other DC restaurants that were far more luxurious, with better tableware, wine service, etc. Yet for many Kinkead's was considered as one of DC's best restaurants, if not its best. Using a four star system, considering luxury and style of service, it would not have qualified for four stars. But to me it seems an injustice not to give it four since the food was creative and delicious.

Black Salt also does an $84 chef's tasting menu which most DC area restaurants do not do. It has a back room behind the second dining room with a private table for eight. This IS set up for a serious formal dinner. While the rest of the restaurant is much more casual, how could you NOT consider it for the top rating if you were sitting in this room?

You could also sit at the bar and have the $84 tasting there. You would leave with a totally different impression from what you may have had in back room. Just as sitting at the cramped bar at San Francsco's Gary Danko where the chef's tasting menu is also available. Danko feels like Citronelle in the dining room. Yet their bar has a lot in common with many restaurants several levels below it. Danko is considered by most to be SF's best restaurant. Chinois and Emeril's first restaurant in New Orleans both have food bars in the back of their restaurants. Both have closely spaced bar seats similar to Danko where the complete menu is available. For many, in Emeril's first several years it was considered New Orleans best restaurant. Yet sitting at the food bar there, or at Chinois, or at Danko you would definitely not have the experience of luxury. It would be about what was on your plate. For that matter Emeril's brick walls, stone floor and beamed ceiling has a lot in common with Black Salt.

And Black Salt has a lot in common with all of these for what you are served.

Edited by Joe H (log)
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Without going too much off of topic:

You know when a pizza place or a Thai place gets more stars than you thought it might? I feel like that's the star-divvying critics way of really getting your attention. It's actually in your favor that he does it; it makes you say, "hey, maybe I do need go a little out of my way and try this pizza place and not bother with that one across the street again..." (and hopefully this is really worth your while).

In these cases, the review is much less about the simple yellow walls or the tile work in the bathroom. It might seem ignorant to the fake orchids on the table or the galvanized industrial pipes over head in the ceiling and less focused on the stemware. If it's accurate, though, it's commonly a review disproportionally about the food and talent in the kitchen.

Stars can be a system of broken justice in this town. And of course I'm not comparing BlackSalt to any known pizza or Thai place.

In my opinion, BlackSalt doesn't fit into any cookie-cutter, though. If I lived in Seattle, San Franciso, Maine, who knows...?

It certainly stands alone in THIS area, and I have little doubt that the seafood being sourced, sold and prepared/served is among the best available in such plenitude. And the menu and what comes out of the kitchen is creative and evolving and should be merited.

I'd have to visit this place many many times before settling on a number of stars. If I were, God, that is.

...

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Interesting consideration: Several years ago I actually drove from DC to New Haven to eat pizza at both Pepe's and Sally's and then returned. An absurd trip but I actually thought it was worth it! Still, I don't know how a star/stars could describe them.

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i think the real problem with the whole star system is how easily they are doled out.

for example, in NYC, if you get a star, that is a good review. 2 stars puts you on par with the likes of Blue Hill and Cafe Gray (great restaurants)...Three stars, well, lets just say you are a excellent restaurant, in an elite class....and four is the super elite.

in Washington, DC, Tom basically makes 1 star a slap in the face for any restaurant. But he also makes four stars very difficult to obtain. So there is this glut of restaurants varying in quality (in a pretty extreme sense in my opinion) getting two and three stars.

It doesnt bother me that a pizza joint can get 2 or three stars. it does bother me that a restaurant that i just dont think is very good, can get 2 stars. he seems very reluctant to give out 1 star, and therefore skews the whole system.

Edited by pastramionrye (log)

Nothing quite like a meal with my beautiful wife.

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Exactly. I think people see stars and think Michelin. But the Michelin system has 5+ ratings (Forks, which can be Red or Black) that exist below the star system. A Michelin star means a very special restaurant. Tom's system is constrained, with only 4 real ratings.

i think the real problem with the whole star system is how easily they are doled out.

for example, in NYC, if you get a star, that is a good review. 2 stars puts you on par with the likes of Blue Hill and Cafe Gray (great restaurants)...Three stars, well, lets just say you are a excellent restaurant, in an elite class....and four is the super elite.

in Washington, DC, Tom basically makes 1 star a slap in the face for any restaurant. But he also makes four stars very difficult to obtain. So there is this glut of restaurants varying in quality (in a pretty extreme sense in my opinion) getting two and three stars.

It doesnt bother me that a pizza joint can get 2 or three stars. it does bother me that a restaurant that i just dont think is very good, can get 2 stars. he seems very reluctant to give out 1 star, and therefore skews the whole system.

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Mark, what are your thoughts re my comments about Michelin three stars? I would guess that most actually lose money and are loss leaders for a related operation unless they charge exhorbitant prices. And some do. Such as Marc Veyrat. This is their menu which I am linking:

http://www.marc-veyrat.com/aller/annecy/index1.htm

The "Symphony" is 16 courses and E 360. At today's exchange of US $1.32 to the Euro this is US $475 prix fixe + wine. For two we are realistically looking at a dinner that will cost US $1200 + .

Marc Veyrat makes money.

But a dinner at the three star Le Calandre in Italy (considered by many to be Italy's best) is E 130 and Schwarzwaldstube, another Michelin three star considered by many to be Germany's best is E 125. Le Calandre stands on its own although it has a small hotel, coffee shop and deli across the street. Schwarzwaldstube is a loss leader for its 300 year old hotel in "The Village of the Grape." This hotel has 400+ rooms and three other restaurants; its reputation is built and carried by Schwarzwaldstube which has a six month lead time to get one of the eight tables in its dining room. El Raco de Can Fabes is another three star in Spain, some would say on par in its own, more traditional way, to the more famous El Bulli. El Raco is also E 140. But Santimaria, the chef/owner now has a restaurant in Madrid and a small inn to suppliment this as well as several other ventures.

All four of these have small dining rooms. All four have a virtual army in the kitchen as well as the dining room. (Many literally work for free because of the credibility and status of the restaurant.) I cannot imagine that this would be practical here. I also cannot imagine that a restaurant could charge $475 prix fixe for dinner although some of the Japanese are now close.

I'm suggesting that there are financial limitations to what a restaurant can do at the highest level unless there is either a willingness to sacrifice or a related business to offset and capitalize from the loss.

I'm just curious for your thoughts or the others on this board?

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My girlfriend and I enjoyed a great dinner at Blacksalt's bar area last night. We ended up splitting a few small plates and apps. I found the fried Ipswich clams, Mussels (addies style) and the white anchovy small plate to be fantastic. Other good dishes we sampled were the Shitake mushrooms, and scallops in a crawfish butter sauce. Dessert was a trio of Creme Brulee...Pistachio, Citrus and Cinnamon Chocolate with a house made biscotti. Pistachio was by far the best! Coffee was a ygercheffe(sp?) press pot, very nice.

The wine by the glass list is quite good. We ended up each having a glass of Argyle Pinot Noir and Steele Chardonnay. The space decorated quite simply, but it is very nice. My girlfriend deemed the barstools the most comfortable that she has ever sat in.

One drawback was that the bartender seemed very swamped, she took a while to have our wine glasses refilled. Overall, a wonderful dining experience and a welcome addition to the D.C. restaurant scene.

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Mark, what are your thoughts re my comments about Michelin three stars? <snip for brevity :biggrin: >

All four of these have small dining rooms.  All four have a virtual army in the kitchen as well as the dining room.  (Many literally work for free because of the credibility and status of the restaurant.)  I cannot imagine that this would be practical here.  I also cannot imagine that a restaurant could charge $475 prix fixe for dinner although some of the Japanese are now close. 

I'm suggesting that there are financial limitations to what a restaurant can do at the highest level unless there is either a willingness to sacrifice or a related business to offset and capitalize from the loss.

I'm just curious for your thoughts or the others on this board?

Joe,

The European system is different from ours. The level of service in Michelin 2 and 3 stars is difficult to match here. To completely replicate service and dinner at a 3 star in Paris here in Washington would easily cost $450 a head for the menu.

Mark

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