Shilling Canning Company is preparing to launch an ambitious Chef’s Counter menu on July 23. The Navy Yard eatery devoted to the Chesapeake region and environmentally-minded dining opened its doors on July 19, 2019. Now, shortly after surviving the pandemic and celebrating its second anniversary, the time seemed ideal for Chef-owner Reid Shilling to return to this grand tasting menu of seasonal, sustainable delights.
Shilling Canning Company already offers a rotating seasonally-focused 3-course prix fixe menu available in both the contemporary dining room — sleekly designed with large picture windows, exposed brick, navy accents and industrial lighting — and the outdoor herb garden across the street from Yards Park.
The new featured seven-course menu will be exclusive to the counter section with views of the staff working the beautiful copper wood-fired oven in the corner of the open kitchen. The Chef’s Counter menu will change weekly and invites diners to celebrate the best of the region’s local fisheries and farmers. Most of the herbs flavoring the meals will come from the outdoor herb garden. End-of-season vegetables will be canned, pickled, or otherwise preserved, and as much of the discarded produce as possible will be upcycled in luscious cocktails designed by Shilling’s Beverage Director and General Manager Jacob Weinstein. The paired beverage menu is optional but highly recommended.
“When we were designing the space for Shilling Canning Company, we knew we had to have a chef’s counter and an open kitchen,” Shilling shares in an email interview. “At the core of our ethos is an immense sense of pride not only for what and how we source our ingredients for the restaurant, but also how we prepare them. That heart-and-soul, behind-the-scenes energy is something we want to share with and showcase to our guests.”
Before the meal’s main event, guests were treated to an amuse-bouche of thinly sliced and salted Surryano Iberico ham on a lightly toasted crust of bread followed by Orchard Point oysters from the Chesapeake Bay. The oysters are petite but plump, leaning to a buttery freshness with only a touch of brine, and served with a pickled watermelon mignonette. For those who enjoy their oysters with a spicy condiment or citrus, the agave green cocktail made with Lunazul El Humoso and a puree made of discarded strawberry tops brings both heat and a taste of lime. This was followed by a crudité platter of fresh, local vegetables.
The Chef’s Counter tasting menu commenced with Shilling’s take on a down-home favorite, a country sausage made in the kitchen — juicy and lightly spiced without feeling too greasy — served with Castle Valley Mill grits sweetened with honey poached apricots, and a green tomato spread. The dish was paired with the sky baby n5k cocktail, which gently elevated the notes of the apricot and honey with its complementary bouquet.
Two seafood dishes were served next: first, the lightly fried Rappahannock River Crab and ramp fritters served with bisque and a ragout of squash blossoms and Sassafras Creek sweet corn. As the pandemic has led to a shortage of tasty crustaceans, the crab bisque is smartly flavored by the shells and meat that normally would be shucked. Served with a refreshing glass of Llopart rosé brut, the pairing smacked of a sun-soaked day at the beach. The second dish — an airy Chesapeake Bay rockfish — floated in a delicately spiced broth made of Karma Farms tomatoes with fennel and a dollop of subtle fennel oil. The latter was paired with a limoncello made of discarded peels and juices that savored of candy drop gooey sweetness.
A ratatouille composed of perfectly curled and slightly charred slivers of Path Valley zucchini, Karma Farms goldminer squash and The Farms at Fireside eggplants was topped with a piquant sauce made of last season’s tomatoes and peppers and a crispy squash blossom garnish. A lively peach-scented Daou rosé complimented the dish.
The dry-aged duck breast with a glass of aromatic tempranillo was served next. Prepared over a sixteen-day process of tenderizing the duck and served with a duck, veal, and mead au jus, the succulent slices were accompanied by a savory cornbread stuffing, duck-fat rendered sliced red cabbage from Shenandoah Seasonal and topped with the sweetness of 5 Sisters Farms blackberries.
The meal concluded with two delicious desserts — a Blueberry Crumble made with Path Valley blueberries with a cheesecake ice cream and a chocolate peanut butter tart — and their respective drinks, the decadent late-harvest Sémillon and sauvignon blanc blend.
To end the meal, a glass of Far Niente Dolce was poured and one last tempting cocktail ‘I know you’d like to think your pits don’t stick’ (a nod to the Outkast classic) composed of rye, ambrosia and vermouth sourced from discarded cherry pits.
The best dishes of the evening were the beautifully composed ratatouille, the simple and elegant rockfish and the hedonistic duck plate. As the menu changes weekly, repeat visits and culinary explorations of the District’s seasonal bounty are encouraged.
With a focus on wood-fired dishes of fresh vegetables, small plates of local fishes and seafood, and inspired recipes of the Mid-Atlantic region, Shilling Canning Company’s Chef’s Counter celebrates Chesapeake cuisine in a contemporary, welcoming interior, with an intimate connection to the chef behind the meals.
Shilling states, “We’re excited to re-open the counter with this new expansive experience that pays homage to all the partners we work with and to be able to interact with our guests after so much time apart.”
The seven-course tasting menu is $95; optional beverage pairing is an additional $55. Reservations to experience the Chef’s Counter will open on Resy starting July 8.
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