Image: Amuse with a twist.
Reflect upon the bite. Each bite. One at a time. In some cases, the dish might evolve even as you are eating it. The crème fraiche atop the potatoes with trout roe will become more liquid. The creaminess will fade to firm piece of potato (some might have said toothsome back in the day), and the individual pieces of roe pop when pressed against your teeth. Or the beef tartare accented with anchovy in a shallow bath of “French onion” broth that is then eaten with strongly flavored seaweed butter atop a slice of thick sourdough. Individually, each of the components is robust, but when combined they meld. The anchovies become a background note, the broth is absorbed, and the seaweed butter is set off against the earthiness of the meat and bread.
Little Pearl is the more reflective spot of Aaron Silverman’s mini empire on or near Barracks Row. If Rose’s Luxury is the fun, sassy spot, and Pineapple & Pearls the over-the-top grand dame, then Little Pearl (as its name implies) is a quieter, gentle soul. Unlike the other two spots, the kitchen is nowhere to be seen. Dishes are served from staging areas. Two of the dining areas, the patio and the conservatory, look out, meaning attention is on your dining companions and outward, not drawn to quiet service happening around you, and no clanging from the kitchen to distract. Dinner is tasting menu format, with five courses for $95 (as of this writing), which is less expensive than comparable experiences, but still much more than the original $45 of 2018. The plates are not large, but because they ask you to slow down and savor – as described above – rather than inhale in big chunks, all but the hungriest should leave sated – and they throw in a parting gift (ours was milk and a chocolate chip cookie) to finish the job if needed.
Tables can be close together, and depending on the room the voices can echo off the hard walls and increase the din to something more distracting from time-to-time, especially as multiple servings of alcohol paired with the multiple courses spur on the laughter and conversation. Speaking of which, though the “wine bar” or yore is gone for now with the day café, they still place a great emphasis on eclectic pairings and cocktails.
The Covid-era meant that Little Pearl morphed from a casual spot to something more refined. From the place that served burgers at the bar and an affordable prix fixe in the dining room, to a tasting menu only restaurant. But the space remains the same, the engaging but calm service remains, and the exquisite bites still can make you pause mid-meal. For a place that tries hard not to be cliché, we nonetheless call it a gem.
Other Guidance: Most are dressed up a little, but not required. On dietary restrictions they are very flexible: “We can accommodate almost all dietary preferences or restrictions, including vegetarians, vegans, gluten free, pregnancy restrictions, etc. Just let us know in advance and we’ll make sure you don’t miss out on a thing.” The building is at street level, there is a very slight incline to walk up. Despite the small halls, and many rooms, wheelchairs can navigate.
Cuisine: New or Old American
Neighborhood: Capitol Hill
Address: 921 Pennsylvania Ave SE, Washington, DC 20003
Washington Post: 3 Stars from Tom in 2018, plus inclusion on the Spring and Fall 2018 Dining Guides.
Washingtonian: Made Top 100 of 2023. #39 on the Top 100 in 2020. #54 in 2019. Other coverage is on the old format.
Lori Gardner (Been There Eaten That) – on her list for 2019 places where she loved to eat.
Michelin: One Star (note that Michelin entry is out of date on the menu price, it is not “well-under” $100).