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The Black Restaurant Group is close to finishing a 30-plus-seat addition to BlackSalt that may or may not become an exclusive tasting room. If christened such a room, the new amenity would immediately place the Palisades seafood emporium among the handful of elite D.C. restaurants that peddle fussy, chef-driven, multi-course menus for those willing to pay a premium. So why the hesitation?
There’s apparently a difference of opinion at BlackSalt about the merits of a full-time tasting room. “We’re in a pretty hard debate about what the actual…spirit of this thing’s going to be,” says Jeff Black, co-owner of BRG. “I’ve been pushing for the tasting menu. Danny [Wells], my chef de cuisine here, he’s got some apprehension. He’s just worried about the kitchen being able to handle the load.”
The room in question used to be a dentist’s office, which BRG secured and is in the process of converting into a private dining room. To reach the space, diners will walk through a refrigerated wine room that has replaced the elevated, 16-seat dining area at the back of BlackSalt. “Yeah, it’s a little bit different,” Black says. “My wife [Barbara Black] thinks I’m nuts. She’s like, ‘You’re going to bring people through like a $70,000 wine inventory?’ I’m like, ‘Yup, right through it.'”
What kind of room those diners will enter may be decided next week. Wells, Black says, is concerned that his kitchen could struggle to turn out dozens and dozens of à la carte dishes for the main dining room while also plating more than 50 multi-course meals. But Black believes that the menus for the main BlackSalt dining room and bar could be manipulated to relieve the extra burden that a tasting menu would put on line cooks.
But really, I ask Black, couldn’t he just demand that it become a tasting room? I mean, he is the boss.
It’s “just the way that this company’s set up,” Black says. “I realize that for things to be successful, my managers have to embrace [ideas] as their own. So I’m not standing here on the side, saying, ‘Yes, this is a tasting room, and you have to do X, Y, and Z.’ I’m campaigning for it, and I’m laying out my arguments. The managers are laying out their arguments why it should be X, and they’re good arguments.”
Still, Black concedes, “It’s a pretty strong probably that it will be a tasting room.” Whatever it becomes, look for the room to open some time next month.