Pineapple and Pearls opened in April 2017, the head chef at the time being Scott Muns, who has since been elevated to the executive chef of the restaurant group. Heading the kitchen here since January 2019 is Bin Lu, who previously worked at Cityzen, and at both Manresa and Attica as a stagiere. Pineapple and Pearls is in the south east of Washington, and doesn’t bother with a sign above the door, which is OK if you have been before but less so if your taxi driver can’t find the place and you can’t get a mobile signal to call the restaurant, as I discovered.
Once you have found the place then you eat either at a counter seat or in the main dining room, which features an open kitchen. The format is tasting menu only, though you can have either a short or long form of tasting menu, currently priced at $150 or $325 respectively, the latter including a beverage pairing. If you opt for the shorter menu then you can indulge in a wine pairing at either $65 or $130. The restaurant seems at pains to push you towards the wine pairing, with just a short list of wines available as an alternative. A more select wine list is available on request only, and this had some fine bottles including one real bargain that jumped out of the list at me. Clos Rougeard Saumur-Champigny Le Bourg is the premiere wine of a family-owned Loire valley vineyard dating back to 1664 and recently bought out by a billionaire. The estate has become a cult amongst those in the trade in recent years, producing arguably the finest Cabernet Franc wine made anywhere, and has rocketed in price. The 2012 Le Bourg was listed here at $400, yet retails at $550 or more, if only you could actually find it. The short wine list included labels like Domaine Rolet Cremant du Jura Rose Brut NV at $85 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for $23, Hexamer Kabinett 2006 at an outrageous $150 compared to its retail price of $32, and Domaine Jean Foillard Morgon Cote du Py Gamay at $150 for a wine that will set you back $38 in a shop. From the reserve list, Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou 2003 was a hefty $700 compared to its retail price of $211, and Vega Sicilia Unico 2007 was a steep $1,100 for a bottle whose current market value is $437. This generally stiffly priced wine list made the Le Bourg bargain price all the more puzzling.
The meal began with a little tart of A5 wagyu beef from Kagoshima, to which was added a red onion gelee and rosemary and a touch of lemon. This was lovely, the beef having superb flavour and nicely combining with the rosemary, the acidity of the lemon usefully cutting through the richness of the fatty beef (17/20). This was followed by sea urchin from Maine with a dark soy emulsion using soy that had been aged in bourbon, along with radish and fermented Fresno chilli. This sounded like a weird combination but worked remarkable well, the spice of the chilli lifting the rich emulsion and enhancing the relatively mild taste of the sea urchin (17/20).
Next was a one hundred layer lasagne with pesto of oregano and basil, a mornay sauce (a bechamel with grated cheese) and a topping of Parmesan Reggiano, finished with a sauce of lobster diavalo with Littleneck clams. The pasta was a touch firm but the sauce was superb, the spicy bite of chilli an unusual idea with lobster but working really well. This was an example of a dish that was walking on a tightrope but never fell off (16/20).
Blackened monkfish came creole style with a preparation of Carolina gold rice known as “Charleston ice cream”, along with mussels, fermented chilli and an etouffee (a Cajun seafood sauce) of lobster stock, cognac, celery, onion and bell pepper. This was another unusual dish that worked well, the monkfish well able to stand up to the spice, the sauce rich and the rice adding an extra dimension of texture (17/20).
The final savoury course was grilled strip loin of beef from Roseda Farms in Maryland, served with braised endive and ramps with panko breadcrumbs toasted in beef fat, along with a veal jus based sauce involving celeriac, turnip, orange, Cognac, tripe and a green peppercorn. The beef was good but the star was the rich sauce, nicely balanced by the natural bitterness of the endive (16/20).
There was a cheese course of sorts. This was based around a Swiss cheese called Tete de Moine, which was originally produced by monks in Bellelay that is usually scraped to produce thin shavings. This came with stewed quince, pistachio and almond gremolata, sugar rush peach chillies (a pepper named for its peach colour and sweetness), rose vinegar and olio verde olive oil. Again this combination sounded exotic bordering on barking, yet somehow the mix of flavours combined harmoniously (16/20).
Dessert was a Medjool date cake with sticky toffee pudding soaked in birch sap, with milk-braised rhubarb, chestnuts, fresh rhubarb and rhubarb jam. Tucked away under the dish was black chestnut ice cream that had been fermented in koi sugar and salt, producing a malty flavour. This was garnished with balsamic and also fennel pollen. The richness of the pudding was nicely balanced by the inherent sharpness of the rhubarb, and the ice cream was unusual but worked really well (17/20). Coffee was a Colombian blend from a supplier called Passenger Coffee, and was lovely.
Service was very friendly and capable. That bargain Clos Rougeard Le Bourg? Reader, I drank it. My bill was the shorter tasting menu plus the superb wine at $400, so came to $550 (£426). If you went for the cheaper beverage pairing then your bill would be $215 (£166) per person. Although this is hardly a bargain, at least the food is genuinely good here and the overall experience is enjoyable, so you are getting something for your money. The food here is unusual and innovative, yet actually works, a rare thing indeed.