After my wife Jun and I moved to the DC area from New York City last year, Tom Sietsema of Washington Post has been my guide in discovering all the new exciting restaurants in DC. I started following the Washington Post food critic’s reviews since last summer, and when I saw that Oyster Oyster was named No. 1 restaurant in his 2021 Fall Dining Guide, I knew I had to try it. Jun and I being enthusiastic meat-lovers, the mostly vegetarian menu at the restaurant initially gave us a pause (especially after our very mixed experience at Eleven Madison Park’s vegetable-only dinner experience last summer), but we figured we could have one night of meat-free dinner for the sake of our health and for a relatively reasonable $75 per person tasting menu (on our second visit, the price went up to $85 per person). Well, we liked chef Rob Rubba’s tasting menu a lot on our first visit in March this year, and ended up visiting again in May for an entire different menu.
The central theme at Oyster Oyster is all about sustainability. Unlike many other restaurants whose rhetoric speaks louder than action, however, the restaurant practices its craft seriously, sourcing most if not all vegetable ingredients from the Mid-Atlantic region (and the oysters from the Chesapeake which appear in one dish per night if you so choose). The freshness of the ingredients therefore really shines throughout your meal, whether it’s a plate of colorful beets, refreshingly crisp cabbage with fermented turnips or kohlrabi with turnip and apple. You can tell that the kitchen really pays careful attention to the texture of these different vegetables. The celery root in a taco shape with kohlrabi and hen of the woods mushroom would be as good a snack as anywhere to begin your meal.
The bread that comes in mid-course is also a strength of the kitchen’s menu, accompanied by marigold “butter” that tastes as good as any top-level real one. One of my favorite dishes at Oyster Oyster which came out on our second visit was an artful dish of green asparagus with foraged ramps and peanut broth. The broth’s aromatic flavor was an absolute gem by itself, but with green asparagus it became something else, an exceptional dish that I would love to have again and again. The restaurant also focuses very much on the seasonality of the dishes when designing the menu. For our first visit on a still chilly March night, the main dish of squash with pole beans accompanied by a side of potatoes with truffle was spot-on for its hearty feel; on our second visit on a warm May evening, the whole roasted hen of the wood mushroom with tender greens and black garlic sauce was quite a fitting spring dish, along with aromatic broth of morel mushrooms on the side. The desserts were also quite well-executed, especially the Virginia peanut dessert with apple and ginger oats that I was absolutely in love with.
Not surprisingly, ever since its opening and all the accolades that came after, the restaurant is very difficult to book on Resy so planning in advance is essential. The wine pairing option is a great way to enhance your meal at Oyster Oyster, with carefully curated wines from a variety of colors and regions working quite well with all the dishes at the restaurant (and a steal at $55 per person during our visit). The cozy interior of the restaurant and friendly service staff is another plus to the dining experience at the restaurant. Oyster Oyster is a testament to how far along the DC dining scene has come; its creative and well-executed vegetarian menu will pleasantly surprise you, and you will most likely not miss any meat dishes while you indulge on all the delightfulness coming from the kitchen. We hope to visit again in the near future to see how the menu evolves in different seasons.
KenScale: 8.25/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.25/10)
Address: 1440 8th St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Reservation via Resy