Restaurant Report: Seasonal Pantry in Washington

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By day this tiny storefront, in a neighborhood not quite there yet but on the way, is a rustic market that has a 15-foot ceiling and a brick wall laden with shelves of jars of homemade dressed meats, pickled ramps, spiced raisin preserve and strawberry rhubarb syrup.

But when the sun goes down, the two butcher-block display tables are pushed together, and an intimate dining space for a small supper club takes shape.

Daniel O'Brien, 32, the owner, chef and product creator, brings new meaning to the open-kitchen approach of cooking in the store, which he opened last September. His dinner guests are just steps from the commercial induction burners, sink and prep counter.

"I do what I love," he said to a visitor one day while cooking. "I don't direct a staff of 30. Just two others help me. We make everything. That's why this place has a heart and soul."

On Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, Mr. O'Brien prepares a five-course meal for 10 to 12 people. The menus are changed every two weeks and are based on local farm produce. "We try to keep with the season," he said. "As it gets colder, we make it more heavy."

Past menu items have included artichoke barigoule, snails, scallops and pappardelle with uni.

On one recent autumn evening, just after the rain stopped and cool air drifted in from the street, Mr. O'Brien introduced the evening's fall theme. Guests pecked at two-foot-long, stick-thin crostini speckled with mini-salt crystals while generous pairings of Côtes du Rhône and chardonnay were poured from large carafes.

A small plate of squid topped with cellophane noodles was followed by a rich cardamom-flan-based soup layered with apple and cream. Then finely braised, fried and crispy pig's ear dressed with kale and a pineapple vinaigrette pickled with mustard seed. "You'll get a sweet hit of fire," Mr. O'Brien told guests.

As each course was served, silence descended over the table. Sliced galantine of chicken with black beluga lentils and a side of butternut squash was the most technical dish and a splendid prelude to a hearty stroganoff made with local beef, mushrooms, pickles and dill.

A chocolate tart with cabernet, vinegar and a dash of sea salt arrived next. Then came handmade chocolates with Grand Marnier and lime ganache and others with a coffee ganache.

There was an aura of attention, skill and delicacy here not usually seen in restaurants. As the capital city stretches its culinary boundaries, the Seasonal Pantry adds a new chapter to dining pleasure.

Seasonal Pantry, 1314 ½ Ninth Street NW; (202) 713-9866; seasonalpantry.com. Dinner served Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m. One menu. Five courses with wine, tax and tip included, $97. Online reservations and advance payment required.

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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