Oyster Oyster

Image: Winter Squash cooked in Cedar, Sauce of Seeds and Spice Bush Berries atop Roasted Mushrooms, Potato, Pumpkin Seed Broth.

Last Updated: November 2021

Current Status:  Open for sit-down service in the small dining room with a prix fixe menu.  Bar seating currently not open. Take-out discontinued and there no walk-ins.  Proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test from the last 48 hours for all guests twelve and older required.

Overview:  A bucket of ink has been spilled to create a litany of superlatives for Oyster Oyster.  Now we join those voices.  This is a special, unique, and incredibly satisfying dining experience.  The current prix fixe is $75 plus an optional $55 wine pairing.  They could charge much more and it would still be worth it.  The meal is a progression of plates that are inventive, labor-intensive and often soulful. The meal will most likely start with a bird’s nest of fried celery root ribbons around a creamy tofu center.  Only one bite, but it will roll across your palate for an extended time.  From there the meal will leverage the seasonal bounty in multiple ways.  Any course that comes with a broth seems to be a little more exciting.  The closing savory dish on our visit had a vegetable sauce as dark and rich as any demi-glace, reflecting the market worth of vegetables cooked down for hours.  The fact the dishes are all plant-based (except for the occasional oyster that is optional) and made from a kitchen designed to have minimal impact on the environment (and is eerily quiet as it hums along) almost seems like an afterthought as you take the bites.

Yet, that is the thought that motivated partners Max Kuller (of Estadio) and Chef Rob Rubba.  Rubba was the opening chef at Hazel where he gained acclaim.  He joined up with Kuller to do a restaurant matching their diets and consciences that was vegetarian and named in honor of the oyster mushroom and the environmentally helpful oyster bi-valve. Delays pushed the opening until deep into the pandemic era, but once opened it took off.

It still is not operating at full capacity.  The early press release said it has seating for 28, but we counted less than that in use plus a currently unused counter overlooking the kitchen.  The room is sleek and bright with a large window facing out on the same block as Convivial in Shaw.  The staff is engaged, with every server ready to speak with authority and enthusiasm on each dish and wine pairing.

The wine list and pairings do deserve special recognition.  Constructed by Sarah Horvitz, who came from Doi Moi (that was part of the original combined Kuller family holdings), it focuses on “responsibly-sourced” beer, cider, and wine.  For the current fall menu, it includes two restrained skin-contact wines, a sparkling wine from Alsace, a Bordeaux-style blend using grapes from Sonoma but from winemakers in suburban Orinda. The evening closed with a fortified wine from Cognac using the traditional grapes of Cognac but done in the style of a Port wine.  The pairing was one of the better ones we’ve had.  The choices underlined and added to the dishes.

Gift Cards:  They do not have gift cards, but Rubba, along with Paola Velez and Willa Pelini, founded Bakers Against Racism in 2020.  If you are looking to give a gift card to someone, you can follow the guidance of BAR: “Share our initiative with relatives and friends, ask for donations to your organization of choice [Thrillist List; NY Mag List], and SUPPORT BIPOC OWNED BAKERIES AND BUISNESSES IN YOUR COMMUNITY.”

Summary:

Cuisine: Old or New American (Vegetarian)
Neighborhood: Shaw
Address: 1440 8th St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Website: https://www.oysteroysterdc.com/
Reservations: Resy

Other Critics/Voices:

Washington Post: Tom is a fan.

Washingtonian: Preview and backstory.  Hard to believe it will not rank high when the Top 100 returns.

DonRockwell.com – no thread yet, though you can find lots of discussion of Rubba’s earlier work.

Washington City Paper – Laura Hayes calls it the best new restaurant.

Been There Eaten That – Lori has gone more than once and is very high on them: “Oyster Oyster will boost your appreciation for food that is micro-seasonal, hyper-local, vegetable-centric, and super-sustainable.”

@dcfoodpundit: Channeling High Fidelity, puts them atop his Top 5 list.