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Oct 21, 2008 06:04 PM

Gourmet birthday dinner, heavy on the seafood?

I want to take my husband somewhere special for his birthday, a place with delicious food and incredible ambiance. I can't decide on where to go - the main reason being that we don't eat red meat or pork, and many of the restaurants I've looked at seem to have menus that are heavy on meat dishes. We love seafood and we do eat poultry, and I'd like to take him somewhere where we have both options.

Any suggestions? I'd like to keep it <$125 per person inclusive of a glass of wine (a tasting menu if possible). I was thinking maybe Palena, but they don't appear to have much in the way of seafood/poultry entrees. Farrah Olivia? Restaurant Eve? Hook? CityZen?

Thanks in advance for any suggestions!

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  1. For seafood, the clear answer is BlackSalt! Lovely ambiance, very romantic, regular and tasting menus, and the best seafood in the area.

    Black Salt Fish Market & Bar
    4883 MacArthur Blvd NW, Washington, DC 20007

    1 Reply
    1. Here's another enthusiastic vote for Black Salt. It meets all your requirements.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Indy 67

        Thank you! I'd driven past Blacksalt (on my way home from Kotobuki) but had no idea that it was anything other than a fish market. I glanced at their online menu and the options look great.

        1. re: MPJ

          Admittedly, the initial impression may not be very reassuring for you and your guests since you're quite right that you enter past a fish market. Once inside, the restaurant is sleek and well-designed. The tasting room offers the most privacy.

          1. re: Indy 67

            The seafood menu and execution at BlackSalt fits your criteria for a special evening, though be forewarned that seating is pretty tight (if you don't have a booth) and it get extremely noisy on busy evenings. I had a terribly frustrating dining experience there on a Friday night. Literally screaming to be heard across a two-top.

      2. I would go to Hook. I ate there last weekend and the food was outstanding. Everything is prepared simply but has many layers of flavor. Sitting near the open kitchen was also special. We had an 8pm reservation on a Sunday night and I found the ambiance laid back and chic (not as loud as when I've been there in the past).

        Another option would be to go to Obelisk. I've heard great things about their menu, although haven't been personally.

        Finally at Equinox they have dishes in all the major catergories but they are very accomidating. I'm sure if you called them up ahead of time and told them that you would like to try a tasting menu (or regular menu) which only includes fish and chicken protein they would be more than happy to help you out.

        6 Replies
        1. re: Elyssa

          Indy - Do you know if there are any restrictions on the tasting room at Blacksalt? It would only be the 2 of us, and we'd probably both do the tasting menu.

          Elyssa - I was taken to Obelisk for my birthday 2 years ago - it's one of my all-time top-ten meals. It was incredible! I was thinking about taking him there, but I wanted to try something new, surprise him with a new experience.

          And I never really thought about calling and asking about a seafood/poultry tasting menu - do you think places like CityZen or Komi would be accommodating like that? I'm dying to try Komi, but from the reviews I've read I get the feeling that you can't have too many dietary restrictions to really enjoy yourself there. It's a good suggestion - I may call and ask at a few places (and be prepared for the emphatic "no way" responses haha).

          I'm thinking Blacksalt sounds like a winner so far...but if I knew that Komi or CityZen could do a tasting menu that accommodated our restrictions, I'd be all over that.

          1. re: MPJ

            I would phone Black Salt directly and share your concerns/questions with them.

            Actually, I just thought of another excellent possibility: Marcel's. Marcel's tasting menu follows quite a different format from others. They divide the menu into seven courses, one of which is a cheese course. Within each course, they offer four options.

            Based on how much you'd like to eat, you may select a three- or four- or five or seven course tasting menu. Then, you select which dishes you want to include in your tasting menu. If you like more than one dish within a designated course, there's no problem with your doing so. Perhaps the easiest way to describe Marcel's tasting menu approach is that you're allowed to order anything you want to eat and the chef will sequence the proper order for your meal. The portion of each course will be tasting size -- although just to confuse the issue, they're willing to resize any dish to be more traditionally appetizer- or entree-sized.

            If this sounds overwhelming, it can be. Nevertheless, it certainly would allow you to customize your seafood/poultry tasting menu even more than BlackSalt, which would more heavily emphasize seafood.

            I don't eat red meat or pork (although I'll eat diced bacon garnish) and I had a fantastic four-course tasting meal there within the last couple of weeks. My dinner companions, two of whom are serious meat eaters were equally happy. (You can search on my name and Marcel's for my recent review.)

            1. re: Indy 67

              Holy shnikes. I just went to the website and the menu looks amazing - so many options, and so many things that we're actually able to eat! Lots of my favorites - scallops, salmon, snails, etc.

              This would just makes things so easy. I'm really tempted to just make reservations on Open Table right now............and I LOVE that jackets are required..................

              1. re: MPJ

                Marcel's is a great choice, and this is from the person who recommended BlackSalt.


                As much as I love Marcel's, and my best meals there are better than my best meals at BlackSalt, SEAFOOD is better at BlackSalt. My favorite dishes at Marcel's come from animals that walk or fly, not those that swim.

                1. re: MPJ

                  I absolutely agree about Marcel's. They allow total flexibility with their tasting menu and the food, service and ambiance are excellent. It's a true special occasion destination. In addition to the excellence of the food, I love the fact that the noise level allows for easy conversation with your dining companions. And the service is second to none.

            2. re: Elyssa

              I have to disagree with you Elyssa on recommending Hook. I went there for the first time a couple of night ago. I was not impressed. We ended up having bad service, the food was only so-so (and we ordered a lot of different apps and entrees to share) and they even prepared the wrong dish for us.

              Why don't you head to D'Acqua in Penn Quarter

            3. The posters that have suggested Marcel's are correct. If you are also looking for something fancy I'd also suggest Kinkead's. I know that some of the folks on this board think that it has gone downhil, but I have not found that to be the case. I think that they are still one of the best places in the city to get seafood. Let them know that it is an anniversary and that you want one of the more intimate rooms.

              12 Replies
              1. re: dinwiddie

                So I called Marcel's to make a reservation (what can I say, I like to plan ahead), and there's a possibility that the restaurant will be bought-out for a private event on the evening we want to go there. Blah! I'm supposed to call back next Monday - the gentleman who answered the phone said they will know definitively by Monday whether or not the restaurant will be closed to the public or not.

                I hope it's open! I slept on it and I'm really stoked on the idea of Marcel's. My husband has never tried French food and always talks about wanting to try it, and I also love the jacket requirement because.....I guess I'm just weird like that. :)

                But I am glad you guys opened my eyes to Blacksalt and Equinox and the other restaurants that I'd never considered before - I have major backup if Marcel's doesn't work out (but my fingers are crossed).

                1. re: MPJ

                  1789...they always have lovely fish and usually shrimp or lobster too. The atmosphere is really romantic and formal...jacket required...and the service matches. Great wine list.

                  1. re: DCDOLL

                    So I called Marcel's back and they took my reservation! Indy67, you're awesome - thank you so much for suggesting Marcel's.

                    And thank you guys for all of the suggestions - I had never considered these restaurants before, and now they're definitely on my list of places to try.

                    1. re: MPJ

                      So glad you got in. I've never had an evening there that was anything less than stellar, on all accounts. It's truly a "special" occasion place. It wasn't my first thought for seafood, but since that's not your only criteria, I think you'll be very pleased. They execute everything well. In fact their Ivory Salmon is mouth-watering. In my seven trips to Alaska I'd never had never had it, let alone heard of the species. But Wiedmaier managed to find it. If I remember correctly, his brother-in-law is a fisherman in AK.

                      1. re: MPJ

                        I'm delighted you haven't told me the date of your event. Otherwise, I'd be anxious -- filled with responsibility that I suggested the restaurant and hoping that everything goes as well as we've promised it will! Please post a brief write up when this happy event takes place!

                        1. re: Indy 67

                          Man on a BENCH!!!! They canceled my reservation!!! I'm so angry - when I called the first time they didn't take the reservation because they weren't sure if the restaurant was going to be bought-out, so they asked me to call back on a specific date. When I called back, they took the reservation and said the restaurant would be open to the public. Poor planning on their part - the restaurant got booked AFTER they asked me to call back.

                          I'm seriously steamed. I was so excited to go there. :(

                          I had my heart set on it - the flexibility with the courses was the main draw, and the food sounded amazing, etc.

                          Do you guys know of a similar place? I think my focus has kind of shifted from seafood to an experience more like what I'd find at Marcel's - a very diverse menu with lots of options and flexibility, jackets required, great service, etc.

                          I'm pouting. :(

                          1. re: MPJ

                            I'm so very sorry! Did they offer any thing by way of apology? I strongly recommend that you write a personal note to Weidmaier explaining the situation. Perhaps include a copy of the whole thread here so he can understand the height of your enthusiasm and appreciate the depth of your disappointment. Give him the chance to make things right.

                            Regrettably, "right" probably won't include the ability to eat at the restaurant on the day you intended. However, since Marcel's remains a wonderful option for you because of your dietary restrictions, I hope they'll find a way to restore your positive feelings. In fact, in your situation, my first choice would be to celebrate the birthday on a different date at Marcel's with, hopefully, some special attention from the restaurant for having messed up your original plans.

                            If that has no appeal, my next suggestion would be to call The Oval Room and ask to speak to the manager. Explain your dietary restrictions. Enlist the manager's help in getting the chef to prepare a tasting menu you'll be able to enjoy fully.

                            The first time my husband and I dined at The Oval Room, we were with friends including a wife who has a strong aversion to fish other than salmon or swordfish and tolerates only some shellfish. The tasting menu that night included two fish dishes. With no advance notice, the chef was willing to substitute a salmon or swordfish dish (I can't remember which it was) for one of the fish courses and a meat dish for the other. Inspired by my friend's success, I asked if I could have the salmon/swordfish dish as a substitute for the meat course in the tasting menu. Yes.

                            Every dish tasted phenomenal, and we walked out of the restaurant confirmed fans because of the flexible and responsive attitude. Incidentally, if the answer to my friend's request had been "no" we would have understood and would have ordered a la carte. I would not have held a refusal against the chef or the restaurant. A tasting menu is intended to expose a diner to new tastes with the tacit understanding that not all dishes might be a hit with an individual diner. However, the fact that The Oval Room spontaneously cooperated allowed us to enjoy the fun of a tasting menu with a safety net.

                            Since you want a tasting menu experience, please call ahead. I certainly don't want anyone to have future expectations based on my experience. Incidentally, I don't think jackets are required at The Oval Room, but I didn't think they are required at Marcel's either. I think most men simply show up wearing them because of the traditional tone of the restaurant.

                            1. re: Indy 67

                              I was at work when I received the call from Marcel's, so I wasn't able to pick up the phone. They left me a message - the woman who left the message was very nice, and apologized for the whole thing and offered to find me reservations at any other restaurant - she offered to suggest some places that I may enjoy in lieu of dining at Marcel's. I haven't called back yet - LIFE has gotten in the way as of late (car broke down, husband left the country for a week, you know, the usual STUFF), but I do want to address the whole issue sooner rather than later.

                              I should call back and let the management know how disappointed I am - but I think your suggestion to send Weidmaier a letter is a really good idea - if I were him, I'd want to know what people were saying about my restaurant! I'm not sure if I'm willing to celebrate my husband's birthday on another day - it's a Saturday, and I had a whole day planned, which was to culminate in dinner at Marcel's. So I think I'll take your advice and send him a letter - but I do need to find an alternative for that evening. CityZen could work - thank you for the suggestion, Lauman. I glanced at a sample menu and it looked good, but it also looked much more limited than Marcel's. The menu at The Oval Room looks really fantastic - if they'll allow flexibility and we can still do a tasting menu-ish thing but substitute seafood for the meat portions, that looks like it could be a winner.

                              But I do think a polite letter to Weidmaier may be in order - I had already told the hubby how excited I was to take him to this "special place" (the dinner destination is a surprise) for dinner, and I'm definitely bummed that it won't work out this year.

                              Indy - thank you again for all of your help!

                              ETA: I went ahead and wrote a little letter to Chef Wiedmaier and included a print-out of some of this thread - apparently I'm in a productive mood. :) I'm sending it out tomorrow, and I'll let you guys know if I receive a response.

                            2. re: MPJ

                              For a similar experience, my choice would be CityZen. Diverse tasting menu with flexibility. Upscale setting, jackets are not required but they are advised. If you let them know it's a special occasion, they will acknowledge that in the service. More expensive than Marcel's and totally worth it!

                              If CityZen is too expensive, my next choice would be Kinkead's. Very good seafood in an upscale setting. They will take care of you. Request a private table upstairs.

                              1. re: Lauman

                                So I ended up choosing Equinox - their menu looks relatively diverse and when I called to speak to the host, he was so nice! I told him it was for my husband's birthday, and he reserved a booth for us (he said there were only 2 booths, and that he felt they were the most romantic tables in the restaurant) and told me they'd "take good care of us" for our celebratory dinner.

                                I'm excited - the more I read about this place, the more I want to eat there. I'll let you guys know how it all goes - this will be at the end of December - and I'll let you know if Marcel's responds to my letter.

                                THANK YOU guys!

                                1. re: MPJ

                                  Excellent choice! Equinox is one of my favorite restaurants in DC. I have found the staff there very flexible and accomidating. Enjoy and make sure to report back.

                              2. re: MPJ

                                How about Palena? I always thought you could choose your courses from the appetizer or entree category. The food is delicious, great service and you wouldn't feel out of place wearing a jacket. (This is for the back dining room btw).

                    2. We did the tasting menu paired with matching wine flights at Black Salt for a special birthday. It was incredible, all seafood. Only small complaint is the place may be a little casual for a big night out. - you walk through a fish market to get to the dining room.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: keithdcil

                        We just got back from his birthday dinner at Equinox - it was fantastic, everything I'd hoped for and MORE! He loved every bite and the entire evening was just wonderful. Thank you again for all of your help and suggestions, everyone - I really appreciate it. I can post photos and details - if anyone's interested, let me know!

                        ETA: Never heard back from Marcel's. I guess everything happens for a reason, because we really loved Equinox, and we'll definitely go there again.

                        1. re: MPJ

                          I'm so glad you and your husband enjoyed your meal at Equinox. It is one of my favorite restaurants in DC (but I don't get a chance to eat there that often because it is quite pricey). I would love to hear details on what you ate. I've been there in the Fall and the Spring but have never had their winter menu.

                          1. re: Elyssa


                            My husband had the chef's tasting menu paired with wine, and unfortunately, I don't have a copy of the wines he drank. Here was his menu:

                            Curried Cream of Local Cauliflower Soup
                            Pickled Whitch Duck Oysters . Caramelized Cauliflower . Toasted Almonds

                            Fricassee of Burgundy Escargot and Roasted Red Pearl Onions
                            Baby Bok Choy . Rosemary Crostini . Ginger Garlic Cream

                            Crispy Skin Black Sea Bass
                            Reedville Oyster "Po Boy" . Oven Roasted Fennel . Pernod-Chive Butter

                            A duck course which isn't on the online menu - it was seared duck breast on top of something delicious, I'm sorry I don't have details on this one!

                            Gingerbread and Apples
                            Creme Fraiche Ice Cream . Warm Butterscotch Sauce . Cinnamon Tuille

                            I had the same first 2 courses, then I had:

                            Pan Seared Oregon Inlet Ahi Tuna Loin
                            Bittergreen “Risotto” . California Pistachios . Jerusalem Artichoke Chips

                            And for my final course, I had a cheese course with 3 cheeses (I said chef's choice, I was down to try whatever), they gave me a gruyere, a chevre, and a gouda, and all were delicious.

                            For amuse bouches, we were given little shot glasses of a butternut puree - it was divine. There was also a spoonful of a creme fraiche/shrimp salad that was delicious. And they brought us some bread with white truffle bean dip that was good as well - I skipped the bread because I knew I'd get too full if I ate it!

                            We also ordered one serving of the truffled mac & cheese - and it was........there aren't words. Honestly. It was so incredible, so rich and cheesy (I'm a cheese fiend) and gooey and decadent, it was just ridiculous. The truffle flavor wasn't too subtle, you could really taste the truffle, which I appreciated.

                            All in all it was a fantastic dinner, we enjoyed every aspect of it from the private little booth to the great service and of course the food. I'm attaching photos of my favorite courses, the cauliflower soup, the escargot fricassee, the sea bass, and the mac & cheese.

                            1. re: MPJ

                              Sounds amazing, especially the escargot fricassee! Thanks for sharing.