Photos By Clarissa Villondo, Words By Jeb Gavin
After accidentally wandering into a speakeasy I was taken to a nondescript office conference room above the 1400 block of K Street on an otherwise forgettable Wednesday evening. I was there to sample the upcoming caviar menu and cocktails from the creative team at the soon to be open Odessa- named for Odessa Madre, a mid-century madam and crime queenpin in DC known for secretive business tactics. A fitting moniker given my circuitous path to the meal. As it was explained to me, the point was to hold off on showing the actual space until the very last minute to preserve the unique nature of the experience (currently the website odessadowntown.com is just a countdown clock and a sign up for the mailing list.)
The meal, less a meal really than a sampling, was caviar focused, all cold dishes. Described as “caviar fusion” the premise was simple: luxe, cold seafood dishes to be eaten with well thought out beverages. Chef James Robinson, formerly of the Blue Duck Tavern and season 13 of Hell’s Kitchen, worked to create courses which both compliment and contrast the cold, cured, or sometimes raw seafood around which they were built.
The evening started with a deceptively complex oyster, created especially for Odessa by a local oyster farm. The oyster was topped with a lemon cream and Osetra caviar, and peppers pickled with Scotch bonnet chilies and brown sugar. The sweetness of the cream and the brown sugar tempered the salinity of the oyster and the caviar, and the peppers provided a pleasant numbing sensation rather than outright heat. My only concern was the oyster needed to be better shucked. Upon shooting the oyster you ended up with oyster liquor, lemon cream, and caviar (delicious,) but then had to use a fork to pry the oyster loose from the half shell. Not really a big deal, but given I eat oysters by the gross, it slowed me down enough to mention.
Between courses we were served one of the best gin and tonic’s I’ve ever had, called the OGT (for Odessa Gin & Tonic.) Mixologists Chris Miranda and Jesse Raines imbued the OGT with flavors of elderflower, honeysuckle, and a bit of radish, supplanting my expectation of expensive turpentine and quinine. The drink was refreshing and brisk and clean, and I will be ordering it again.
Next came a tuna tartare, more about the textures than the flavor. The rich quail egg and smashed avocado above and below the tuna overwhelmed the tuna, but the contrast in mouth feel was interesting enough to keep me eating. I also liked that rather than serving it with a tortilla it was served with a fried wonton wrapper, providing some crunch to a softer dish.
The third dish was a morsel of smoked rainbow trout on a blini with creme fraische and salmon roe. While I’m not one to turn down caviar, I can live without salmon roe. Here both the roe and the creme were nice, but didn’t necessarily aid the applewood and cherrywood smoked rainbow trout which tasted slightly bacon-ated, and the perfect sweet/savory blini. I would’ve been happy had the only topping been the small cilantro leaf placed atop less creme, but all in all an excellent take on an oft butchered classic.
Somewhere among the latter few plates we were served the second of the theoretical cocktails. This one, a mescal and tequila mix with cucumber and smoke, was called Lincolns & Cadillacs after Odessa’s preferred vehicles. The mixture was made like a Ramos fizz complete with egg white foam and was almost nectarous. The effort involved in making a proper egg white fizz is daunting, and this seemed well worth it.
The meal finished with gravlax served with dill pickled apples and sturgeon caviar. The gravlax were good, the apple was nice, and the dill was fleeting until you bit into a front of it, but the caviar was my favorite of the night. Salty and creamy and capable of elevating the flavor of any mouthful.
Granted, this was just a small fraction of the anticipated service at Odessa. There are plans for an entire lounge within the lounge focused on caviar tastings, a chef’s table with prix fixe menu, and morning service of La Colombe coffee and Bakeshop pastries. From what I tried, I’m certainly willing to indulge the staff at Odessa. Indulgence looks to be their forte.
Odessa opens November 6