The evening began ascending into a regal, underwater grotto where I wanted to reach out and touch the deep, captivating shades of blues and greens, perfectly capturing the depths of the ocean in the moonlight. Brass trim sparkled, bathed in a low golden hue emanating from the ceiling. Smooth jazz beckoned me deeper into the room. The whole effect was seductive, yet soothing. I now understand the name, Siren, as the restaurant’s atmosphere mimics the effects of a siren’s song.
Michelin-starred Siren by Robert Wiedmaier – located on the ground floor of The Darcy hotel near Logan Circle – is dedicated to seafood. The menu is constantly inspired by daily catches and its strong agricultural partnerships. However, the restaurant does more for their partners than just utilize their products; it celebrates them with FarmStead Evening dinners. This series spotlights the relationships Siren has with other regional businesses, and December 12, Siren turned the spotlight on Element Shrub: a family-run agribusiness that produces “herbal elixirs” that can be drunk on their own or incorporated into food and beverages.
The word shrub comes from the Arabic word “sharāb,” which means to drink. Shrubs are age-old beverages made from using vinegar to preserve fruits, herbs and spices. Element Shrub strictly uses organic apple cider vinegar containing raw enzymes and gut-friendly bacteria known as “the mother” as a base. With this as the foundation, a variety of fruits, herbs and spices are added for a diverse range of products.
Siren Chef Brian McBride worked with Element Shrub Founder Charlie Berkinshaw to create a five-course meal with pairings highlighting nine shrubs: blood orange saffron, honeydew jalapeno, lemon mint, cranberry hibiscus, grapefruit vanilla, pineapple turmeric, blueberry rosemary, chair pear and cranberry hibiscus. Attendees were seated in Siren’s elegant private dining space, which feels like part of the main restaurant but is secluded enough for guests to enjoy dinner with a different element of presentation and raucous conversation.
Much to my delight, we were greeted with a glass of champagne, providing a sensation only truly good champagne can. No sooner than when I placed my flute on the table, my hand held a glass once more with the welcome “Shrub Down” cocktail – a concoction of blood orange saffron soda shrub with citric honey syrup and orange bitters. Every sip was robust, a marriage of all its ingredients washing across every part of my taste buds.
However, this cocktail was nothing compared to the amuse-bouche. The dish, a salty Gigamoto oyster topped with a brilliant honeydew jalapeno shrub gelée, prompted diners at my table to perform an impromptu rock-paper-scissors match for who could eat the coveted last oyster. Unfortunately, it wasn’t me; damn the scissors.
As I was getting over my angst at not having a second oyster, a delicate bowl of bay scallops with lemon mint and spruce was set. Accompanied by “Shrubbles,” a cocktail with cranberry hibiscus shrub and sparkling wine, the scallops were the true star of the course. Perfectly paced, a bowl of peekytoe crab under a sabayon sauce of grapefruit vanilla shrub soon followed. The dish proved whimsical, unusual and perfectly pleasant.
The crescendo of the meal was not a flamboyant whole-roasted fish, but a Rohan duck with blueberry rosemary shrub, Brussels sprout leaves, black trumpet, black onion soubise and master stock brittle. For this course, I have only two things to say: first, anything that resembles spittle should firmly be left off the plate; the reign of foams and airs needs to be over. Second, the concept of stock brittle was excellent, but its execution left me feeling like a three-year-old panicked about her teeth never unsticking after biting off too much caramel candy.
The crowning jewel of the evening was the caramel pear compote made with a crispy crepe, chai pear shrub apricot sauce, toasted rice ice cream and hazelnuts. Coming from someone who is not a dessert person, this dish deserved a standing ovation. Delightfully made to look like egg rolls, every bite was crispy on the outside with a warm, soft middle full of perfectly textured sweet fruits that were heightened once paired with toasted rice ice cream.
The Darcy: 1515 Rhode Island Ave. NW, DC; 202-521-7171; www.sirenbyrw.com