By Mario Trujillo - 11/29/11 11:52 PM EST
The ultra-modern Black’s Bar and Kitchen — with its fresh oyster bar on ice, sleek architectural design and 300-plus-bottle wine list — doesn’t seem to have a hint of the South at first glance. Yet a few subtleties begin to take form throughout the meal — and they are surprisingly appropriate.
The patio, though left unused at night as temperatures drop, houses tables that surround a small rock pool. Inside, customers are greeted by a hostess on their right and a fresh oyster bar on their left. Order the oysters for $1.50 apiece as an appetizer or with a drink at the bar.
The restaurant and bar have two distinct atmospheres, yet all that separates them is a wall and a clear, temperature-controlled wine cask that holds more than 300 bottles. At 7 p.m. on a Wednesday, the bar is filled with young professionals catching the tail end of Black’s 4-7 p.m. happy hour. Many are standing, chattering loudly. The restaurant to the right is softly lit, with a picture of a French vineyard that runs the length of the wall. The dining room is patronized by a slightly older crowd.
The menu is filled with seafood — clams, oysters, sea scallops and trout. Swordfish and branzino are served as one night’s catch of the day. But on the bottom of the menu is that classic Southern dish — chicken, waffles and collard greens. It is done with elegance, allowing the dish to blend in nicely with the chic nature of the establishment.
It is prepared as a deep-fried thigh and drumstick coated with a pecan breading. The chicken is lightly drizzled with a house-made maple syrup infused with herbs and served atop a sweet-potato waffle. The collard greens are prepared simply, dredged in chicken stock and baked.
Maybe more restaurants like this should serve fried chicken and waffles.
Other slightly Southern notes slip through the modern exterior of the restaurant. While waiting on the entree, diners can fill up on miniature fresh butter biscuits.
Apart from a few Southern dishes, the restaurant’s speciality is its seafood. A good choice is a sea scallops dish served with mashed potatoes and spinach.
The after-dinner menu is not only filled with desserts. While it does feature classics like sorbet or crème brulee and cake, the menu also includes cheeses, ports, dessert wines, cognacs, scotches and bourbons.
Diners can choose one or all of the four artisan cheeses that are served with slightly toasted bread and can be accompanied by honey.
The restaurant has become a staple of the Bethesda area. It was redone in 2006 and has received many accolades since. Its website features such prizes as the Washingtonian’s 2007 and 2008 “100 best restaurants” and Bethesda magazine’s 2008 “Best Seafood” award; it was dubbed “Maryland’s favorite new restaurant” in 2007 by the Maryland Restaurant Association.