Friday, August 7, 2020

Little Pearl

Little Pearl occupies the former carriage house of the Old Naval Hospital, the Civil War-era property that was transformed six years ago into the Hill Center, an arts, cultural and education facility. From the team responsible for the Michelin-starred Pineapple and Pearls and Rose's Luxury, Little Pearl offers pastries, sandwiches and gelati by day in its coffee shop, and snacks that pair with boutique wine when it transforms to a swanky wine bar at night.  Closest Metro is Eastern Market.

March 2018: With online reservations opening last week, we were able to snag a table to check out the wine bar side of James Beard Foundation Award-winning chef Aaron Silverman's all-day eatery.  The entrance was a bit confusing - there is no real hostess stand so we thought we were walking into a private party, as a bunch of people were just standing around the bar (no one was sitting at it).  But we were waved in and told they were waiting for a few tables to clear in the conservatory before they could seat us.  As we walked towards the back, the glass conservatory room was dimly lit and incredibly loud with chatter and pumping music in the background.  This was not the vibe I expected at all. It was like some pretentious club, rather than a chill neighborhood wine bar that I had envisioned.  Nevertheless, the service was familiar to the Rose's team and soon set me at ease.

I started with a glass of pinot gris from Oregon that was light and crisp.  It paired well with our first snack of Angel Eggs.  Traditional filling and flavors on a light meringue instead of hard boiled egg white created a unique texture experience.  The bite was slightly sweet and fun, but at $1.50 a piece you'd have to order many to fill up, so I suggest just getting one or two to try as an amuse and then move on.

Keith really wanted cheese to go with his glass of French Malbec, but the closest snack available was an odd Cheese “Whiz” & Biscuit Crackers for $7.  Cheddar cheese was spread on a thin cracker and topped with saffron, apple, thyme, and jalapeno.  We cut it like a mini pizza to eat in small pieces.  The cheese had a weird grainy texture and the thyme was quite overpowering.  This was my least favorite snack of the night.

The Crispy Potato came in four pieces for $6 topped with a spicy cod roe hollandaise.  This was the first warm snack we had, and was a bit oily and had very subtle roe flavor.  I squeezed the lemon on top for much needed acid that brightened the bite.

For my next glass of wine, I tried the 2015 Omero Cellars, Pinot Gris, from Willamette Valley, Oregon.  This orange wine was cloudy, funky, and strong.  It is not something you see on every menu, so I appreciated the uniqueness and am happy to have tried it.  Keith switched to another red wine blend from Chile that was heavy with smoke on the nose, but light on the palate.

Lastly, Keith ate the Corned Beef Lengua Tacos.  Two come in the order for $9 and were cold with lots of horseradish, mustard, and lettuce.  They were underwhelming, and I even overheard the table next to us who ordered the same thing express the same disappointment.

Contrarily, I loved the Classic Moules Marinieres (Sailor Style). PEI mussels were steamed in an intoxicating sauce of saffron, cream, dill and herb oil, served with two lovely pieces of toasted, garlic-buttered baguette.  For $16, this larger dish (compared to the other snacks) was delicious, but not the best bowl I've had nor the most generous for the price.

As far as the ambience goes, I am guessing the packed room and boisterous patrons are due to anticipated buzz of the new P&P off shoot.  I did feel a little rushed out and did not like how people stood right by my table, waiting like hawks.  I hope it will die down soon, so that I can come back and truly enjoy that neighborhood wine bar experience that I'm yearning for. I also suspect that as soon as the weather warms up, the patio seating will be more enjoyable for both the coffee and wine lovers.

UPDATE - May 2019:  We returned a year later to celebrate our anniversary with their $45 prix fixe offering of 8 of their current menu favorites.  We also opted for the wine pairing for an additional $30 each. Some of the dishes were repeats from what we've had before, but slightly tweaked and improved that I raised the food score.  And the prix fixe deal is pretty decent compared to other restaurants in the city.  We had a fun meal and were even sent home with a small box of two dollops of funfetti cookie dough, to bake at home.  Tonight we enjoyed:

Angel Eggs - these were better than the first version we tried. Much more onion and bright herbs that woke the palette. Paired with an Italian white (pinot gris).

Fancy Tater Tots - a slight name change and different preparation that the original crispy potato snacks, but same spicy cod roe hollandaise on top.  Would have liked to see some caviar on top.

Crab Onigiri - stuffed with Old Bay seasoned crab meat, these little Asian bites were fun served with a large dollop of Kewpi mayo.  Paired with a Malbec Rosé.

Pineapple Glazed Chicken Wings - these were sweet and messy to eat, but were cooked well.

Blue Cheese & Pear Sorbet - a wonderful salty and sweet combo.

Steak au Poivre (for Keith) - with asparagus and mushrooms and a lovely cream sauce, this dish was satsifying.  Paired with a bold Greek red.

Vegetable Curry (for Micky) - a vegetarian substitution for me that featured sweet potato, radishes, hazelnuts, and grapefruit segments in a curry broth.  Paired with a medium Italian red.

Strawberry Shortcake - a delicious and refreshing strawberry-rhubarb ice cream on top of vanilla pound cake. Paired with a white port.

Churros with chocolate dipping sauce. A nice salty and sweet finish.

UPDATE: This restaurant was awarded one Michelin star for 2020.

UPDATE - August 2020: It's been over 4 months of this "new normal" caused by the COVID pandemic.  Some DC restaurants are in phase II of re-opening where outdoor/patio seating is available with 50% capacity indoor seating as well. We are not quite ready to eat indoors, but for a celebratory dinner and given the fact we can walk to Little Pearl, we chose to try their Patio Tasting Menu.  The entire back lawn was set up with tables, some with umbrellas and globe lights and candle lanterns strewn about.  The vibe was cute and we felt safe with hand sanitizer at the entrance, our temperature was taken upon check-in, and all staff wore both masks and gloves the entire time. They advised they would not be changing silverware or glassware as often, to minimize contact, and also used a little tray for us to place our own dirty plates on so they could grab it easier.
We decided to add the drink pairing to accompany the six course tasting menu.  First, we started with the Gazpacho made with tomato, cherry, and sourdough.  It was an acidic start to open up the palette. 
Next, we ate Biscuits & Pimento Cheese.  The cheese dip was topped with fried green chili, pickled onion, and shallots.  The little biscuits were delightful! These first two dishes were paired with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from Happy Canyon, Santa Barbara that was bright and crispy - perfect for summer.
The third courses was a fun spin on Chips & Dip.  Nixtamalized grits were crispy wedges with a soft inside.  The dip was pureed pistachio and avocado, topped with peach salad and tasted great.  We were scraping the bowl.

Fourth was Steak Tartare with pickled ramp, aji dulce peppers, radish, and black garlic aioli. My dish was substituted with tomatoes - both fresh and sun-dried. A true celebration of tomato season! This and the prior course were paired with a glass of Rosato from Calibria that had strong strawberry notes.

The fifth course was a light Salmon & Summer Vegetables. Grilled radicchio in a balsamic glaze countered the summer ratatouille.  The meunière sauce on the fish was super buttery, and a bit too heavy for this summer evening, in my opinion.  This course was paired with a glass of chilled Sangiovese that was tart with cherry and actually complemented the fish and vegetables. 


Lastly, for dessert we enjoyed a slice of Chess Pie with macerated blueberry, thyme, and a scoop of buttermilk gelato.  This dish was a nice sweet finish to the meal and was paired with a a light cocktail made from bourbon and herbal sweet tea that was refreshing.

Overall, despite the new normal of masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer, we had a great date night out.  We did not feel service was compromised and enjoyed the experience of dining out again.

What Micky Eats...
Total Rating: 4.13
Food: 4.5, Price: 3.5, Service: 4, Ambience: 3, Accessibility: 5

Little Pearl Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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