It has been over a year since our post on our experience at the bar at Whaley’s, so we were ready to give it a fresh look, this time in the dining room. We had been back to the bar a few times in the interim and found the drinks to be good but the oysters to be a bit hit-or-miss. Mainly too gritty for our liking. On this visit, however, Whaley’s excelled in all aspects – food, service and atmosphere.
Whaley’s is known for its raw seafood, so we started our meal with oysters. For variety, we ordered four from the Chesapeake region of Virginia and two from Maine. The oysters were superlative—all six were the right temperature, well-shucked and a nice mix between melony and briny. To complement the oysters, we ordered a bottle of Sancerre from Whaley’s reasonably priced wine list. Many bottles are under $50, which is a (welcome) trend that I am starting to see.
The big-eye tuna crudo was also stellar, one of the best examples of salty, sweet, spicy and sour that I have ever had. The cool-but-not-cold, perfectly and uniformly salted slices of tuna came with Seckel pears (sweet), aji amarillo consumme (spicy) and calamansi vinegar (sour). If we had the chance, we would have ordered three of these.
It’s tempting to just get the cold dishes at Whaley’s, but it is a well-rounded restaurant and the hot plates are also very good. The best of the two hot dishes that we got were the seared day-boat scallops from Maine with Anson Mills farro, butternut squash, Cipollini onions and huckleberry jus. The huckleberry jus in particular was a great foil for the buttery yet sweet scallops. I could have done without the farro, as I did not think it brought a lot to the dish. Still, we would order the scallops again.
The oyster stew, made with Benton’s ham dashi instead of the traditional cream, was inventive and tasty. My favorite part was getting a spoonful of at least one crispy ham piece and one oyster, along with that flavorful dashi. While the dish did not blow us away, I am glad that we got it. Plus, the kitchen served it in a miniature Dutch oven, so the portion was big enough to allow us a taste but not much more.
Throughout the evening, the service was professional and attentive yet not intrusive. Whaley’s showed that it is a restaurant that has hit its stride and is really coming into its own — I think that Whaley’s has taken its place among our favorite restaurants.
Paul: Tuna Crudo
Whaley’s: 301 Water Street, SE #115 Washington, DC 20003
Closest Metro: Navy Yard