Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Black's Bar and Kitchen

Despite the fact that B works in Bethesda, we rarely find ourselves there for dinner. However, as B will explain, Black's Bar and Kitchen holds a special place in our hearts and we're happy to make the special trip. An extensive renovation in 2006 turned Black's from a cozy, yet dated and dark, dining room into a chic, modern bistro.

We had one of those waiters that B dreams about who suggests dishes on the menu without being asked. He was informative without being overbearing. I had a hard time listening to his suggestions because the instant that I opened the menu I locked eyes with the white peach salad. Desperate to savor the last bites of summer, I had high hopes for this salad and it did not disappoint. The white peaches were firm enough to stand up to the greens, pickled onions, and spicy nuts, but not so firm that you wish they'd been left on the counter to ripen a few more days. This is my idea of a perfect salad.

As sure as I'm going to order a salad with fruit and nuts, B is going to order whatever the waiter tells him to. In this case, he was in for a very unique treat. On the specials list were pacu ribs. Pacu is a Brazilian fish that has big, meaty rib bones that look just like baby backs. Black's doused the ribs in a smoky/sweet BBQ sauce and served it with a tangy coleslaw and their take on a potato salad. It was like a backyard BBQ without the effort, since the silky fish slid right off each bone.

It's hard to top fish ribs. However, as soon as B took the first bite of his entree, a giant smile crept over his face and I knew he was excited about the salmon. Served with crispy skin on, this salmon was the envy of all other salmon dishes and comes with a wonderful blend of bacon, shrimp, sweet potatoes, green beans, and other goodies. If you don't think you like salmon, it is probably because most people cook it to death. Try Black's version and you might be converted. I know I was.

Sticking with a fruit theme, I ordered the tiger fish served over apples and duck confit in a brown butter sauce. I'd probably eat anything with brown butter sauce on it, but the tiger fish was so perfectly cooked that it didn't need the sauce. Silky smooth and not the least bit fishy = exactly how I like my fish.

When you walk into Black's you'll probably feel like you've seen this restaurant before. Yes, it has the trendy glass wine room and tables with one bench seat and one chair. Yes, it gets a little too noisy and the lighting is a little too low. However, once you bite into Black's fish creations, you'll be wishing that perfectly-cooked fish was something you saw a lot more often.

Second Thoughts from B

More than any other restaurant, Black's Bar and Kitchen turned me into a foodie. Despite my aversion to the term, that's probably how some people see me, especially through the lens of this blog. Nevertheless, I appreciate food more than some, and Black's was instrumental in that evolution.

We all know the stereotype about ramen noodles and the "poor college student," but having lived the life, I would say that the "poor grad student" might be an even better fit. I was that guy, if you'll permit baked potatoes and rice (with some awful combination of butter, salt, frozen vegetables, and hot dogs) as a substitute for the famous dehydrated noodles. (Mom, when you read this, don't worry that I felt deprived) But how does this relate to Black's? Let me set the stage.

After over 2 years playing the role of poor grad student, I was sent by my professor to Bethesda to establish a scientific collaboration with a researcher at the NIH. By my side was a fellow poor grad student who grew up in the middle-of-nowhere China and together, we had a combined $100 in per diem!

For the first time in my life I could afford a nice meal and was responsible for deciding where to go. Fortunately, we were pointed in the direction of Black's, where we indulged in one of the most memorable meals I'd had in years. Partially because it was such a treat, and partially because I was in the position to help my friend understand the difference between eating-to-live and living-to-eat, I savored and contemplated each bite. Rather than stuffing our faces, we talked about what the chef might have been thinking, and the contrasts of flavor and texture. As my grandfather, who came from equally humble beginnings in China used to say, "Slow down, you're here to dine, not just to eat."

I was sent to Bethesda quite often over the course of my grad school career, and each time, I tried to make my way back to Black's. In fact, it was one of the first places I took J, and that was before she learned to like fish. For me, nostalgia isn't the only reason I love the place. It simply serves great dishes that will make any guest slow down and learn to love food.
Black's Bar & Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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