Aaron Silverman
Aaron Silverman

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In the leadup to the opening of Pineapple and Pearls, Aaron Silverman taught all of his managers how to use Pinterest. And like a bride-to-be, the Rose’s Luxury chef then created nearly 20 inspiration boards for all elements of the decor—even toilet paper holders and trash cans.

“We would get in like 20 different trash cans, and the upstairs [office] would be filled with trash cans, and we’re playing with them and testing them,” he says.

So you can imagine the thought that went into the design of the actual kitchen.

“This is our baby,” Silverman says of the 4,000-pound, custom Bonnet range, which was imported as a single piece from Europe. “It’s still a bunch of old French guys who make it by hand, no machines,” Silverman says. He isn’t aware of any other ovens like this one in D.C., although other fine dining establishments have them.

If it seems like Silverman is pulling out all the stops for the hybrid coffee shop and fine dining destination, consider the expectations. In the two and half years since Rose’s Luxury opened, Bon Appétit named it “Best New Restaurant in America,” and Food & Wine dubbed Silverman among the best new chefs in the country. He’s a finalist for a James Beard Award and was even asked to give a TED Talk about the secret to his success.

Not that any of that seems to be Silverman’s driving force.

“It’s not meant to be the ‘best’ fine dining restaurant,” he says of Pineapple and Pearls. “It’s just meant to be the most enjoyable one… Getting certain stars or awards is nice, but if it’s not fun, then it will suck.”

Silverman believes Rose’s Luxury was a success in part because it didn’t try to mimic what was popular or trendy. “We just did what we thought would work,” he says. Before he opened Pineapple and Pearls, Silverman had hoped to research other fine dining restaurants around the country, but he didn’t have the time or money to travel beyond a trip to Eleven Madison Park in New York. Ultimately though, that might be a good thing. Pineapple and Pearls is very much Silverman’s own version of fine dining.

For starters, the restaurant fuses together low-end and high-end concepts. At 8 a.m., you can get a fried chicken sandwich for $9. By 8 p.m., you’ll find a 15-course tasting menu with drink pairings for $250. In addition to Columbia Room, Pineapple and Pearls is among the first dining establishments in D.C. to offer pre-paid tickets rather than reservations—more like theater than dinner. And perhaps gutsiest of all, the four-day-a-week fine dining restaurant isn’t even open on Saturdays.

Within 60 seconds of arriving at Pineapple and Pearls, you have a welcome cocktail in your hands. From there, you walk past a curtain separating the front coffee counter from a seven-seat bar. Before entering the dining room with an eight-seat chef’s counter, a hostess stops to describe the art on the wall—inspired by weather patterns on the Chesapeake.

You won’t find the same extent of modernist techniques as Minibar, but you will find a similar sort of playfulness from Silverman, head chef Scott Muns, and the rest of the team, who all collaborate on dishes.

A fennel-flavored orb filled with homemade yogurt, fermented fennel, golden raisins, and orange zest is balanced on an absinthe spoon above a cocktail of green apple, fennel, and sunchoke juice with a splash of absinthe in a rose-etched glass. A spring vegetable egg drop soup is presented tableside, next to a bone marrow egg custard served in eggshells on a silver platter.

Silverman’s trip to Japan last year has also influenced aspects of the menu. White asparagus “okonomiyaki,” a rolled-up twist on the savory Japanese pancake, is served on plates emblazoned with Sailor Moon characters. Pineapple and Pearls also offers a riff on kakigori, Japanese shaved ice. But instead of the typical crunchy, chewy topping like kids’ cereal and gummy bears, the dessert uses pea shoots, rhubarb gummies, and crunchy lime meringues chilled in liquid nitrogen. Eat it quickly and vapor will come out of your nose.

At the end of the meal, there’s no check. Using a custom-designed online platform, guests pay half when they book a table and the other half on the morning of their reservations. Silverman opted for pre-paid ticketed reservations in large part to avoid the reality check that disrupts the finale of most pricey meals.

“One way or another, you’re paying for it, so why marr the experience at the end with the check?” Silverman says. “When you’re here, you don’t have to worry about anything.”

Silverman admits he was a little worried about the first-glance sticker shock, but he figures the D.C. dining public is savvy enough to understand what they’re getting. Yes, $250 per person is a ton of money, but the price includes tax, tip, and drink pairings. For comparison, Komi’s tasting menu is $150, but when you add in the $75 drink pairing, tax, and a 20 percent tip, your total comes to $297 per person. At Minibar, it’s at least $488.

If you sit at the bar, Pineapple and Pearls’ price drops to $150, which includes tax and tip but not drinks. Guests at the bar can, however, add on a drink pairing or opt for a cocktail from barman Jeff Faile. The nontraditional drink menu is simply a small folded card listing the names of five cocktails but no ingredients or prices. (They’re $20 each, tax and tip included.)

A flower-garnished pina colada made with tequila, not rum, is presented in icy ribbons thanks to a Japanese shaved ice machine. An even wackier concoction is an oyster tower where each shell is filled with either green apple-wasabi granita and gin or grilled cucumber granita and mezcal. Faile also “steam juices” oyster shells and makes a granita out of the seawater-like liquid to add a touch of salt to each sip.

Going forward, Silverman is looking to potentially give friends, family, investors, and industry peers first dibs on half of the bar seatings each night before they’re released to the public. Silverman says other fine dining restaurants, like Alinea in Chicago, do the same thing but don’t necessarily promote it. While even Silverman’s own family has to wait in line at Rose’s Luxury, the chef and his staff can dole out some insider perks to friends and family at Pineapple and Pearls.

Other aspects of the restaurant also seem to be designed more for staff than the public. For example, the fine dining portion of the restaurant is closed Saturdays through Mondays. “I get it, people want to go out on Saturday night and have a dinner out—and so does our staff,” Silverman says. “Our staff are people too.”

Another reason for closing on Saturdays is that Silverman wanted to keep the coffee bar open until 4 p.m., “because it’s a neighborhood place.” The coffee bar would need to close at 2 p.m., as it does on weekdays, to be ready for dinner service on time. The occasional Saturday will be devoted to private events or hosting guest chefs.

While the dining room is also closed Mondays, the Pineapple and Pearls team comes in then to brainstorm new dishes and tinker with other aspects of service and design (even down to minutiae like “the spoon for the souffle is too big”).

Mondays are also for staff education, whether it’s wine tastings, coffee classes, or knife sharpening tutorials. The front-of-house team has even partaken in a ballet class. Other fine dining restaurants, like Inn at Little Washington, do the same thing so staff can learn how to navigate the dining room more gracefully.

Employee perks extend to full health benefits, which is somewhat of a rarity in the restaurant world. And recently, Silverman’s restaurants started offering gym memberships to the entire staff as well.

“We invest a ton of money in our staff. We could be a lot more profitable,” Silverman says. But if the place is busy, “we will hit a mark that makes our investors happy.”

To keep both restaurants busy, Silverman isn’t opposed to changing things along the way. In fact, he says, he may change Rose’s Luxury’s entire concept in a year or two.

“Right now, people enjoy it and it’s relevant. We’re making tweaks; we’re not making massive changes. But in a year or two, we totally might,” Silverman says. “I don’t want to get bored, I don’t want my staff to get bored, and I don’t want the public to get bored.”

Similarly, Silverman says Pineapple and Pearls will likely change in its first year.

“When we open the restaurant… it’s not going to be a true reflection of what this restaurant is,” he says. “It’s a living, breathing thing—if you treat it like that.”

CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, this story initially incorrectly identified the type of range at Pineapple and Pearls. It is from Bonnet, not La Cornue. Also, the restaurant has not yet started offering half of its bar seatings to friends and family, but Silverman is looking into doing so in the future.

Eatery tips? Food pursuits? Send suggestions to jsidman@washingtoncitypaper.com.