You see how it might be strange that Rappahannock – a restaurant who’s obsession and pride lies in their oysters – has made quite an impression on me. Even though their thing isn’t my thing, I can still put on those rose colored glasses and see the good (and there’s alot of good here). So good in fact that I got re-excited while writing this and checked their reservation availability, only to find a single 9pm reservation available. Good for them.
My work folks and I arrived at Rappahannock on a week night. Much like the other early dinners, we witnessed the airy dining room fill and when our meals were finished, there was a heavy wait. The space is cool and clean – beige walls are lined with black and white photos of folks harvesting oysters. The large square bar is the main focal point and takes a bold position in the middle of the dining room.
Our dinner started with a smorgasbord of oysters – ranging from buttery to salty. The nearly unspoiled Rappahannock River naturally supplies the restaurant’s oysters as well as two other locations that fall under the Rappahannock chain (they’ve got a place in D.C. and Topping, VA). My dining companions devoured them instantly.
One of my team members raved about their asparagus salad a month prior. Of course, this was all I needed to hear to order one myself … along with 4 other folks at my table. If you’re looking for a light and subtle pre-dinner salad, try something else, this salad is intense and is worth every complex taste at $11. Bright asparagus is served along with pickled onions, arugula, roasted onions, and pistachio pesto. A heap of velvety burrata (similar to mozzarella but creamier) gave a wonderful balance to the tangy flavors but the black olive oil drizzle is where it’s at. This added a smoky taste like I’ve never experienced, the balance of the flavors are magnetic and memorable.
I tried to change it up from my standard menu go-to’s but I couldn’t pass up the scallops ($24), especially after our server informed me the ones that had come in that morning were huge. He wasn’t playing around. These scallops were large and in charge (yes, I did just refer to my food as large and in charge) and even got the “ooohh” “aahhh” reactions once my plate hit the table. I even think someone nearby muttered “yeah, I shouldda ordered that”. Not to be the shining star, the thick flavorful scallops were served with curried roasted cauliflower and braised oxtail. The flavors all at once wasn’t exactly what I had hoped for – I thought the cauliflower was a bit dry but it was still pleasing and something I’d recommend to others.
Although my asparagus salad was amazing and the scallops hearty, what really took the win was my dining companion’s grilled pork belly ($22). There are few things that remain sacred in my heart (things like Alice & Dana love in the L Word, wet dog noses, and my grandmother showing me how to make whip cream perfectly) and now Rappahannock’s pork belly has made it to THAT level. Their pork belly is all about the char.
To fill you in, char-cooking (or char-grilling) describes anything that’s cooked over direct heat, slightly scorching the surface of the meat. You’d think this would leave a crispy outer surface but Rappahannock’s is more like a delicate scorch. I would imagine if you stuck your fork in the generous mound of pork belly, it’d sound like the snap crackly pop of Rice Krispies … but sexier. The taste is incredible, it’s sweet and salty but overwhelmingly juicy. Its outer char locks in the juicy and tender meat. It’s something that deserves a Facebook fan page.
For dessert, we passed around a cobbler with vanilla ice cream. The ice cream had tiny bits of icy flakes – I love this, it reminds me of the homemade ice cream I had as a kid. It was a perfect finish to our meals that left us pleasantly full.
A few of my work folks have gone back to Rappahannock, just for the pork belly. In fact, I think Rappahannock knows it has a winner because they serve pork belly for lunch, dinner, and even brunch. For lunch, they serve it on a sandwich with fennel and whole grain mustard aoli ($14) and for brunch, its paired with rice, beans, and a fried egg ($22).