Oyster Oyster is now eyeing a 2020 opening in Shaw, but former Hazel chef Rob Rubba has already decided what the early forms of his sustainability-focused, mollusk and mushroom menu will look like.
Rubba, who’s partnered with Estadio owner Max Kuller and bar manager Adam Bernbach, has landed on a four-course, $49 tasting menu that will cover a snack, an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert, with three choices per category. Expect 12 new dishes to swap in every two months.
More affordable tasting menus have been gaining steam nearby. Rooster & Owl serves a four-course, multiple choice menu for $65 per person. Recently opened Nina May in Logan Circle offers a bottomless, $39 “family meal” full of dishes selected by the chef.
Along with a full year of R&D, which included a field trip to Noma in Copenhagen, the restaurant has defined itself through a steady run of local pop-ups. The next one will be at Estadoio during Black Friday (November 29). The “Oyster Oyster Roast” will be a $30 family-style party from noon to 3 p.m. Drinks will be available a la carte, including an Oyster Oyster Mary from Bernbach and several natural wines by the glass and bottle, hand-picked by Kuller.
“After the holiday, I want it to be jovial, relaxed, and family style,” Rubba says of what will likely be that last big pop-up before opening.
When the team is ready to move into the City Market at O building, across the street from Giant, the restaurant will assume its four-course format. The menu will kick off with snacks sized a little larger than an amuse bouche. Think raw, fresh oysters with pressed black walnut oil, apple, and radish, or crispy sunchokes with sunflower yogurt and a chile condiment.
“Things to awaken you and give you a sense of place in the restaurant — it sets a tone for the rest of the meal,” Rubba says.
The second course will be suitable for winter weather. A broth made of slow-cooked oyster and chaga mushrooms joins buckwheat, slow-braised greens, and tofu-like custard made from cooked chickpeas — a creamy dish “without the cream,” Rubba says. Another dish pairs Kabocha squash confit with grilled onions and pumpkin seed.
Course number three relies on grains to fill up diners. An oxheart carrot steak features toasted farro, vegetable reduction, and a fennel fermented with chiles and a garlic that Rubba says “tastes like pepperoni.” A three-mushroom ragout comes with pickled mustard greens, multi-grain rice, and benne seed.
For dessert, there’s a potato-and-peanut sorghum with a glazed potato rosti and African runner peanut mousse.
“It’s like dipping fries in a milkshake — you have the salty earthiness, with sweet peanut butter,” he says.
The restaurant will only have 35 seats, an intentionally intimate setup that encourages kitchen staff to interact with guests. Rubba expects meals to last around 90 minutes, but “pros could smash it in 30 minutes.”
“I don’t want to sit through 12 courses unless it’s the best meal I’ve had in my life,” he says. “We want something accessible to the metro area. It’s a good escapism from the day but not overbearing.”
Rubba sees Oyster Oyster’s lengthy testing period as a positive, not negative, in that he’s had more time to think about how its ingredients interact.
“That’s what you have to do the first three months of being open,” he says. “We’ve been doing it behind the scenes.”