Sunday, September 21, 2014
Black's Bar and Kitchen (Bethesda, MD)
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Good seafood is a wonderful thing, but in much of the country, especially those places not within a very short distance of a major fishing harbor, it is in short supply. The DC Metro Area, an hour from the Chesapeake and much further from any major non-crab fisheries, was not where I would necessarily have expected to end up finding great seafood, even with the abundance of high end restaurants in the area; Saturday night, however, I had just that, up in Bethesda.
Black's Bar and Kitchen is one of the seven restaurants of Black Restaurant Group, all of which seem to focus on seafood quite heavily (one of them is actually a fish market that also serves food), and all of which are fairly high end. Located in downtown Bethesda, MD, it is just one of dozens of restaurants in the area, but with great reviews and a long wait at the restaurant I originally planned to dine at, Black's stood out from the crowd.
My dining companion and I both had some difficulty deciding on what to eat, as everything on the menu sounded delicious, from the Seared Sea Scallops to the Duck Breast cooked on a wood fired grill, but in the end we narrowed it down to two dishes each, which happened to be the same for us both. I ended up going with the Coriander Crusted Yellowfin Tuna Loin, and she the Pan Roasted Salmon Filet. As it turned out, after trying both dishes, we each decided we had ended up with the right dishes, as she liked her salmon best, and for me, the Yellowfin was slightly superior.
The salmon did have two things going for it, which were its tremendously crispy skin, and that it was served with cockles. Since I loved cockles (shellfish of all varieties, really), and she did not, I got to not only sample them, but in fact eat them all! They were slightly briny, a little chewy in the same way clams are, but overall simple and delicious. The salmon was nicely cooked, a proper medium, and was obviously fresh, though I felt that it was less flavorful than some I have had.
My tuna, on the other hand, was slightly more cooked than I would typically go for, but that was my own fault for not just ordering it rare. Because it was not just lightly seared, it was starting to fall apart around the edges, though it was a perfect medium-rare all in all. Sliced into several medallions, it was served separating a thick smear of Orange Annatto-Chipolte (sic) Emulsion and the various vegetables it was served with. The emulsion had a nice spice to it that complemented the fish, while the coriander crust was heavenly, providing a slight crispness to each bite and a ton of the spice's unique flavor, but without ever making me feel like the fish was not the center of each bite. Pickled peppers (local, according to the menu) added a little more heat, while the crisp, juicy grilled baby tomatillos, sweet pieces of pineapple, and crispy (sort of) yucca provided nice contrasts to the fish in both flavor and texture. The tomatillos may have actually been my favorite part of the meal, as they were bursting with flavor as if picked off the vine and thrown directly over some flames, and had the little bit of char that had begun to form just before being plucked from the grill. There were also pieces of orange that provided much the same result as the pineapple chunks, but were no less successful. All in all, I was really pleased with the dish, and my date enjoyed her's as well, so I can comfortably recommend this as a fine place for a nice dinner out, whether with friends or a significant other.
We also each had some wine with dinner, and even with my limited knowledge of the subject, I could tell their wine list was solid. That said, it was also significantly overpriced, both the ones available by the glass and those by the bottle. I know the intent is to recoup the cost of the bottle with the first glass when serving individual portions, but the markup on the bottles was insane, at three times retail (and thus probably 3.5 or more over their cost), and is the kind of thing that makes me not want to get a bottle with dinner even when on a date. Pahlmeyer Chardonnay, for example, is available at Schneider's of Capitol Hill, a fine wines and spirits shop in the District, for $49.99; a bottle at Black's Bar and Kitchen will run you $166, a 232% profit even assuming they are paying retail. It is, to say the least, ridiculous.
This is, of course, not limited to just Black's. Most restaurants I have been to do similar things, so I do not want this to seem like I am picking on or necessarily even blaming Black's; it is, after all, industry standard. That said, I think it is insulting to us as consumers, and more importantly, I think it prevents people from really being able to try or enjoy wines that they might like to. As someone who knows only a little about wine, but likes to try new things, I find it tremendously frustrating when I go to a restaurant and the wine is marked up at such an incredible rate. I pretty regularly buy wine at local stores, and find that oftentimes I can find very reasonably priced wines that I enjoy a great deal, but this is just impossible at a restaurant. It is why I typically stick to beer, and that is unfortunate, because there are times that wine is absolutely the better choice.
Richard Auffrey of The Passionate Foodie has written about this topic several times, including a very interesting take on the subject as it pertains to his personal favorite, sake; I urge you to take a look at his post.