When he reopens Pineapple & Pearls, Aaron Silverman plans to “smash” the fine dining mold.
I paid $325 per person upfront to try the newly redesigned restaurant in June and strolled in with high hopes. Silverman is also behind the imaginative Rose’s Luxury and Little Pearl, and my pre-pandemic rating of Pineapple & Pearls, the crown jewel of his empire, was four stars strong, a rare “superlative” dining experience.
First impression of Pineapple & Pearls 2.0, apart from the steep price of admission? Deja vu thanks to a cool towel and a glass of sparkling wine as we entered the foyer. For a brief moment, I thought I could reminisce for a few hours. Then my companion and I were shown to our seats in a newly designed dining room with myriad silver-tipped wooden sticks hanging from the ceiling (disco balls for 2022!) seemingly designed by Dr. Seuss to be clouds. We were given a book to read, a collection of stories and photos that explained parts of the meal ahead. now This is a premiere. So does the arrival of an absinthe fountain and someone to whip you up a Hemingway-inspired cocktail called Death in the Afternoon.
The printed menu is a surprise, only five courses with two choices per course. Those who are tired of tasting menus for several hours will be happy about the shorter script, with entertaining “gifts” alternating with the courses. First out of the gate are tall glass pedestals topped with beggar’s bags made of beet and saffron colored crepes. Pumped with crème fraîche, lemon zest and shimmering caviar, the sachets come with instructions on how to consume the designer sachets: just use your mouth, no hands. Following directions looks a little obscene, but that’s part of what Silverman had in mind as he tinkered with fine dining. The chef borrowed the idea from the late, great Quilted Giraffe of New York, whose chef and owner, Barry Wine, showed up for dinner during the new restaurant’s second week of operation and returned the next evening for a drink at the bar. (The cheerleader even gave Silverman a silk bomber jacket, plates, and other memorabilia from his famous restaurant.)
Don’t fret. What sounds like a gimmick turns out to be delicious, and a first course of chawanmushi or roast squab punctuates a cuisine steeped in classics. The first, silky Japanese egg custard is cradled in the hollow of a bamboo stalk and covered with a small forest of mushrooms, hazelnuts and ginger. The second choice, a Guinness and cocoa glazed squab in brine, summons one of those restaurants you book months in France for. The elegant main course, topped with roasted pine nuts and cacao nibs, comes with a twist on boulangère potatoes: sliced celery root paired with squab mousse. Squiggles of sauce on the plate appear to have been etched by a calligrapher.
It takes an entire village to maintain a restaurant like Pineapple & Pearls: about 35 waiters, cooks and others to feed and spoil no more than 24 guests at a time. The owner says he was looking for servers that “love hosting,” a detail pointed out repeatedly during my visit by a cool cat named Cosmo. (Eying a cocktail with a hint of caviar on the side, he whispered, “I’m not jealous.”) Silverman also weighs in. The night I dined, the chef walked past the tables with a gift of ‘alles’ Gougeres, delicate cheese pockets stuffed with pimento cheese, speckled with an accented spice rack and topped with a stunning Hermes platter. Ha! And more please.
You’ll dream of the noodles long after they slip off your tongue. Rarely do flour and potatoes defy gravity like the ethereal gnocchi with truffles here. Even finer is the Mont Blanc Pasta, a riff on a classic European dessert in which a chestnut and oat filling swells homemade agnolotti topped with a delightful sage-scented pesto. Mousse tufts are a heap of fun coaxed out of white chocolate and Parmesan cheese. Try it, you will love it.
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Unlike some high-end dinners, this doesn’t feel like an endurance competition. The evening is designed to marvel at the richness of grilled lobster, lit with spices like star anise and brushed with brown butter. Think about the wine in your glass (a “fancy” pairing costs $195, “extra fancy” costs $500 and includes a pre-dinner consultation with a master sommelier); and wonder how the team came up with Époisses ice cream and Grayson cheese fondue — together in the same dish. “The right kind of stink,” said our waiter as he introduced the funky cold-hot combo, the one thing I left unfinished during an otherwise great dinner party.
Tacos from Los Angeles inspired an imaginative and empowering dessert made with pineapple tartare, coconut “snow” and ice cream flavored with chamoy, the Mexican spice made with pickled fruit and chillies. The creation is another example of how the restaurant’s indulgence principle works and how fitting it is to savor it while Cheryl Lynn sings “Got to Be Real.”
Before guests leave, they revisit the foyer, where they are invited to help themselves to a soft serve ice cream machine and an attendant photographs them with a Polaroid camera. The cool strudel is returned to the table – topped with amaretto, warmed by a candle – to be enjoyed on its own or over the ice.
The parting gifts are fun too. An elegant gift bag is filled with elegant postcards, matches with the words “Always Classy/Never Trashy/And a Little Cheeky” and a treat to enjoy as a midnight snack or lunch the next day. Let Pineapple & Pearls gift us a Wagyu cheeseburger.
Silverman says his team is just getting started. “It’s a never-ending journey,” he told me in a phone interview. “We have a lot of good ideas, but we ran out of time” to implement them all.
Patrons pay for the extreme pleasure. According to Silverman, the check average is about $525 per person. That’s a lot of money right now, and I can already hear some of my audience complaining about how much groceries they could buy or what else they would do with the money, as if fine dining consumers couldn’t be charitable too. Funny how these concerns are rarely directed at people who shell out similar amounts for the Super Bowl, Broadway or other indulgences, or how they don’t take into account that restaurants are jobs and that the cost of everything has skyrocketed.
In the end, transporting new Pineapple & Pearls is a unique sensation that I’m willing to pay for – the ultimate test of any restaurant.
715 Eighth St. SE. 202-595-7375. pineappleandpearls.com. Open: Indoor dining Wednesday through Saturday. Seating times are 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Price: USD 325 per person excluding tax, 22 percent service charge and beverages. Soundcheck: 69 decibels/talk is easy. Accessibility: No barriers to entry; Toilets are ADA compliant. Pandemic Protocols: Masks and vaccinations for staff are recommended but optional.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/food/2022/07/15/pineapple-and-pearls-review/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=wp_lifestyle Pineapple & Pearls Restaurant Rating: Hauter than ever