Pineapple and Pearls
I try to limit my word count in posts these days, but occasionally, a lengthy piece is warranted. Pineapple & Pearls opened in D.C. earlier this year and is already rocketing into the upper echelon of American restaurants.
Months ago, Pat Noonan, the man behind Pat Likes to Eat and the only food blogger with a six pack, convinced me that that missing out on a meal at Pineapple and Pearls in D.C. would be a huge mistake, even with it’s $250 per person price tag. Pat knows food, and we both loved chef Aaron Silverman’s sister restaurant, Rose’s Luxury, so I figured, “Be like Pat.”
I'm crammed in the shittiest Uber in D.C. with my brother, Logan, and his girlfriend, Kathryn, anxiously wondering what the meal will have in store. None of us have read any reviews. We're going in blind.
We pull up, point and laugh at the plebs waiting hours to eat at Rose's, and make our way through P&P’s matte black door into the bright white, gold, and wood interior—it's classy A.F. Don Draper would fit in here. We check in with the hostess and are presented with welcome drinks: a Kir Royale for me, soju and shiso the other two.
We're taken into the intimate 20-or-so seat dining room and told that, like Catbird Seat in Nashville, we won't be getting menus until the end of meal, so we’ll have no idea what each course will be—aside from peeking at our neighbor's plates.
Drink pairings, gratuity, and tax are included in the price of the meal—L&K went with the alcoholic pairings, but I wanted to see what a non-alcoholic pairing would be like. We toast our prosecco (and my pear cider), then the avalanche of food starts.
Fennel absinthe bonbons hit the table first, an emerald marble resting on an absinthe spoon over some kind of absinthe cocktail—I miss the details because I'm staring at my own reflection in the bonbon. I pop the yogurt-filled bonbon in my mouth and take a drink. We all nod in agreement. Baby Mexican street corn elotes served over a tiny smoker come next. Give me 11 more servings of those and I’ll be good.
And the winner for most beautiful palate cleanser I’ve had at a restaurant is...The oysters and vodka course comes out on a stunning tower that a slob like me doesn’t deserve, with the lower level's faux oyster shells holding pickled oysters with cucumber granita, fennel, and borage flowers, and the upper levels holding shots of vodka, cucumber syrup, and fennel bitters. The last time I ate oysters in D.C., I had the worst food poisoning of my life and I still haven't mentally recovered 100%. Still, I press on with no regrets.
Chef Silverman himself brings out our next course, which appears to be a bamboo box. He turns it outward and unveils three tiers hidden inside, like some kind of Russian matryoshka doll. The bottom tier holds a sour cherry compote, followed by a foie gras mousse with toasted hazelnuts.
At the pinnacle are three small squares of bread, which Silverman downplays as a mix between brioche and a biscuit. I split my biscuit in half and take a bite without any toppings. Oh god. I think I let out a guttural moan or a high pitched squeeee. It's flaky. Moist. Buttery. And even more buttery when I spread the foie gras mousse on. All three of us try to make it last as long as possible. We would all agree this was the best bite of the entire meal.
We're given a few minutes before the entrees commence, which is good, because my food refractory period is in full swing. Plus, I'm terribly depressed the pan au lait is gone.
Before we continue, let me tell you why the non-alcoholic pairings are even better than the traditional ones: the alcohol throughout the meal was primarily wine, with a cocktail and beer thrown in. My drinks were unique and, quite frankly, amazing. The Thai basil and lime soda was like gourmet Sprite; the smoky Arnold Palmer was the first time in my life I could enjoy lapsang souchang tea; the ginger beer in the coconut made me feel like I was at the beach; the peanut milk cherry cola melted my face off. Get the non-alcoholic pairing.
Entrees make their way out, starting with a petite charred Sungold tomato and peach broth bowl, an appropriate ode to the end of summer. The Fairy Tale eggplant caponata tart that follows looks like someone with far more patience than me spent a half hour delicately placing the basil, garlic chive flowers, mint and golden raisins. It's beautiful, and the flavors are balanced. I would happily eat it again—this coming from someone who isn't an eggplant fan.
The next two courses hop from Italy to Thailand. We're brought cardboard boxes, which open to reveal double-fried sweetbread stuffed chicken wings, accompanied by a watermelon hot sauce and a lime fish sauce. It's like the lunchbox you always dreamed your mom would pack you.
Our plates are cleared and a...what the hell is that? Our server sets what looks like something out of Walter White's lab onto the table, and tells us it's a Japanese coffee siphon—the bottom holds a summer red curry broth and the top Thai aromatics. As the pressure builds from the heat, the broth shoots into the top, picks up all those wonderful flavors, then settles back to the bottom. I immediately order a coffee siphon on my phone.
The curry is poured over crispy enoki mushrooms, shrimp, and coconut and the smell is absolutely intoxicating. I want to lift the bowl up to my face and drink every last drop.
We miscount what course we're on and assume we're moving on to dessert, but no. There's more. The entrees close out with a trip to a D.C. steakhouse: mini-popovers filled with chanterelle mushrooms, a crispy potato terrine, and two slices of meat from a retired dairy cow. I wish I was less full so I could appreciate it more, but the flavors are solid—I make room for as much of the popover as I can.
The parade of desserts kicks off with a blueberry shortcake paired with whipped Brillat-Savarin cheese, a fairly light but immensely satisfying dish. I give the win to the roasted fig crostata, though. Straight out of the oven and into my mouth. The crostata is bursting with end of the season figs, one of my all-time favorite fruits, and paired with a 'sundae bar' made up of toasted coconut, macerated figs, and three flavors of ice cream. It's a decadent, blow-out finish to the meal. Kathryn crushes me and Logan on this dish, finishing off almost every single ice cream herself.
Our guts busting, we've completed our meal. Wait, no, we haven't. Not until we finish off Logan's "freedom from a shitty job" Italian cake and gelato. Not until we polish off the Chartreuse, Campari, Grappa, and Nardini donuts. It's only then that we are allowed to raise the white flag of surrender and roll out of the restaurant.
As we headed towards the front door, the hostess gave us each a bag to take home with breakfast for the next morning: a bottle of iced coffee, shortbread cookies, and a thank you note from chef Silverman.
I had almost given up on high-end tasting menus years ago, after an extremely boring, extremely expensive meal at JAAN Singapore. This meal has brought me back. Truly, the food, the drinks, the service—I won't forget any of it. Silverman and his team know how to make people happy. It's not overly formal, there's no stuffiness that tends to go with high-end dining. The food isn't all foams, gimmicks, and molecular gastronomy. The meal was fun. And for me, that makes it worth the money.
Next time you're in D.C., go for it. Get a table at Pineapple and Pearls and have a meal you won't forget.