You have to admire people who take a risk. Opening up a brand new restaurant in a brand new hotel in a growing neighborhood is exactly that. However, if successful, you’ll not only reap the rewards, you also might be part of the force that helped reinvent a neighborhood. In this case, it looks like Chef Todd and Ellen Gray, along with their Watershed in NoMa are doing just that.
NoMa, of course, stands for “North of Massachusetts Avenue,” north of Capitol Hill and Union Station. It has one successful BID too; you can check it out on Twitter at @NoMaBID. The Grays are currently calling NoMa and the Hilton Garden Inn home as they work to get their second restaurant up and running. If you don’t know the restaurant is there, you’ll definitely miss it, but it doesn’t seem like that’s hindered anything thus far and there’s still a Grand Opening to come.
In what I found perhaps most interesting, Ellen tells me that Watershed is the only independent restaurant with Hilton. What I found funniest is that Chef Todd is working on controlling his language (typical chef cooking) in the kitchen, as it’s an open kitchen and no one wants to scare away the customers. But now, on to the food.
As a joke, I told my friend Sara who dined with me to write this blog post. I didn’t realize that she was taking me seriously, but she did. Normally, I stay away from being so gushingly positive, but aside from the slow service at the bar (they were swamped with customers) everything was great. Alas, here’s the review courtesy Ms. Sara Mursky-Fuller.
I have no idea what it takes to be married or open a restaurant – let alone open a restaurant with my spouse. But after eating at Watershed and seeing Todd and Ellen Gray in action it appears effortless. Todd took time away from his 4 day old kitchen to hand deliver gumbo – an item not even on the menu – and describe the ingredients. If he was waiting to perfect this dish before putting it on the menu it’s ready! Huge pieces of shrimp, large oysters, and small dice of Virginia sausage in a spicy broth that gets you at the back of the throat instead of on the tongue sweetened with red bell pepper and topped with green onions.
Ellen stood and chatted about family (her son plays lacrosse and then learns how to make pastries after school), Equinox (the staff is so superb they can leave that restaurant while they open Watershed), how much a soft opening helps (the only sign for Watershed is on the valet stand), and the restaurant concept (local food that is also unique) as she helped clear plates, asked questions, and barely paused as a large crash came from the open kitchen. Grace under fire the both of them.
Great cocktails, small but apt wine list, good bar area. Sure to be a hit with the neighborhood working stiffs.
Appetizers – The hushpuppies are bites of Heaven. Light to the taste it’s almost as if they weren’t fried. The mussels have an amazing presentation and are huge. They’re cooked with white beans and tomatoes that soak up the flavor in the sauce. I am a calamari connoisseur, and the calamari at Watershed is divine. It’s served with a clear, light, ginger sauce that contrasts the crunchiness of the calamari perfectly.
Entrees – The BBQ shrimp with grits has a light BBQ sauce that is not overwhelming and it is paired well with grits that add sweetness to the dish. The crab cakes have huge flaky chunks of crab but could use a bit more seasoning. The tilefish has a crispy skin and the flaky bits of white fish are great in the mustard sauce. It is served with perfectly cooked yellow and green beans and mushrooms.
Sides - The dirty rice with chicken liver is like rice soaked in chicken liver. I love the taste of liver, and this side combined that earthy taste with the texture of a grain. The french fries were cut thick and fried just right so the outside was crispy but the inside was soft. Served with a vinegar dipping sauce.
Dessert – The strawberry rhubarb tart had a good balance of the two fruits and the ice cream was a perfect cool topping to the hot dish. The chocolate pudding is so dark and chocolately that I’m now obsessed and want it to-go in a bucket.
Watershed is located at 1225 First Street NE. The closest metro stop is New York Ave. (Red Line). For more information, call 202-331-8118.