When he reopens Pineapple & Pearls, Aaron Silverman plans to ‘break’ the fine dining mold
I prepaid $325 per person to run the reinvented restaurant in June and walked in with high hopes. Silverman is also behind the imaginative Rose’s Luxury and Little Pearl, after all, and my pre-pandemic review of Pineapple & Pearls, the crown jewel of his empire, was four stars strong, a rare ‘superlative’ dining experience.
First impression of Pineapple & Pearls 2.0, apart from the high entry price? Deja vu, courtesy of a fresh cloth and a glass of champagne as we entered the lobby. For a brief moment, I thought I might be within a few hours of memory. Then my companion and I were ushered to our seats in a redesigned dining room with a myriad of silver wooden rods hanging from the ceiling (disco balls for 2022!) and, closer to the chef’s counter in the back, a flotilla of green balloons forming what appeared to be clouds by Dr. Seuss. We were given a book to peruse, a collection of stories and photographs explaining the parts of the meal to come. Now it is a first. So does the arrival of an absinthe fountain and someone to mix you a Hemingway-inspired cocktail called “Death in the Afternoon.”
The printed menu is a surprise, barely five courses with two choices per course. Anyone who is tired of tasting menus spanning several hours is likely to encourage the shorter script, although entertaining “freebies” alternate with the dishes. First out of the doorway are tall glass pedestals topped with beggar’s purses fashioned from colorful beetroot and saffron pancakes. The sachets, filled with creme fraiche, lemon zest and glistening caviar, come with instructions on how to eat the designer bags: mouth only, not hands. Following orders seems a bit obscene, but that’s part of what Silverman had in mind when tinkering with fine dining. The chef borrowed the idea from the late great Quilted Giraffe in New York, whose chef-owner Barry Wine showed up for dinner during the new restaurant’s second week of service, returning the next evening to grab a drink at the bar. (The cheerleader even gifted Silverman a silk jacket, plates and other memorabilia from her famous restaurant.)
Do not worry. What looks like a gimmick turns out to be scrumptious, and a first course of chawanmushi or roast squab highlights a cuisine rooted in the classics. The first, silky Japanese egg custard, is cradled in the hollow of a bamboo stalk and embellished with a small forest of mushrooms, hazelnuts and ginger. The second choice, brined squab glazed with Guinness and cocoa, summons one of those restaurants for which you book months in advance in France. The elegant starter, garnished with toasted pine nuts and cocoa nibs, revisits baker’s potatoes: slices of celeriac accompanied by a squab mousse. Flourishes of sauce on the plate look like they were engraved by a calligrapher.
It takes a whole village to sustain a restaurant like Pineapple & Pearls: about 35 waiters, cooks and others to feed and pamper no more than 24 guests at a time. The owner says he’s been looking for servers that “love to host,” a detail demonstrated many times during my visit by a cool cat named Cosmo. (Looking at a cocktail that featured a caviar bump on the side, he whispered, “I’m not jealous.”) Silverman gets in on the act, too. The night I dined, the chef passed by the tables with a gift of “everything” gougères, delicate cheese puff pastries stuffed with pimento cheese, sprinkled with a spice rack and picked from a superb Hermès platter. Ha! And more, please.
You’ll be dreaming of pasta long after it’s slipped off your tongue. Flour and potatoes rarely defy gravity the way the ethereal, truffled gnocchi do here. Pasta Mont Blanc is even more refined, a riff on a classic European dessert in which a chestnut and oatmeal filling swells homemade agnolotti arranged with a sage-scented pesto. Mousse tufts are a mound of pleasure coaxed from white chocolate and parmesan cheese. Try it, you will love it.
If you think fine dining is dead, these restaurants offer delicious proof to the contrary.
Unlike some high-end dinners, this doesn’t feel like an endurance contest. The evening is punctuated to marvel at the richness of the grilled lobster, lit with spices including star anise and brushed with hazelnut butter; meditate on the wine in your glass (a “fancy” pairing is $195, “extra fancy” is $500 and includes a pre-dinner consultation with a master sommelier); and wonder how the team imagined Époisses ice cream and Grayson cheese fondue – together in the same dish. “The right kind of stench,” our server said as he introduced the funky, cold and hot combination, the one thing I left unfinished during what otherwise felt like a great dinner party.
Los Angeles tacos inspired an imaginative, restorative dessert made with pineapple tartare, coconut “snow,” and ice cream flavored with chamoy, the Mexican condiment made from pickled fruit and chili peppers. The creation is another example of the restaurant’s pleasure principle at work and the ability to enjoy it while Cheryl Lynn sings “Got to Be Real.”
Before diners leave, they revisit the lobby, where they are invited to help themselves to a soft serve ice cream machine and an attendant takes their picture with a Polaroid camera. The fresh swirl returns to the table – set with amaretto, warmed by a candle – to be enjoyed separately or over ice.
Parting gifts are fun too. A stylish goodie bag is filled with stylish postcards, matches bearing phrases such as “Always classy/Never trashy/And a little sassy” and a sweet treat that can be enjoyed as a midnight snack or lunch the next day. Let Pineapple & Pearls treat us to a wagyu cheeseburger.
Silverman says his team is just getting started. “It’s an endless journey,” he told me in a phone interview. “We have a lot of good ideas, but we ran out of time” to implement them all.
Customers pay for extreme pleasure. Silverman says the average check is about $525 per person. That’s a lot of money, especially now, and I can already hear some of my audience complaining about how many groceries they could buy, or what else they would do with the money. , as if food consumers couldn’t also be charitable. It’s funny how these concerns are rarely addressed to people who shell out similar sums for the Super Bowl, Broadway or other indulgences, or how they don’t consider restaurants to be places of work and the cost of everything has skyrockets.
Ultimately, the new Pineapple & Pearls transport is a singular sensation that I’d be willing to pay for myself – the ultimate test for any restaurant.
715 Eighth Street SE. 202-595-7375. pineappleandpearls.com. Open: indoor dining from Wednesday to Saturday. Seating hours are 5-6 p.m. and 8-9 p.m. Price: $325 per person, excluding taxes, 22% service charge and beverages. Sound control: 69 decibels / Conversation is easy. Accessibility: No barrier to entry; restrooms are ADA compliant. Pandemic Protocols: Masks and vaccinations for staff are encouraged but optional.