Gourmet Trips

Oysters Riot in Old Ebbitt

I was dining at another DC restaurant when the manager there recommended me to come to this old establishment that has been serving the DC elites since 1856. That’s older than Singapore.

675 15th Street NW

Old Ebbitt Grill is a historic bar and restaurant located at 675 15th Street NW in Washington, D.C. and is Washington’s oldest bar and restaurant.

Originally founded by William E. Ebbitt in 1856, the Ebbitt House was a hotel
and restaurant located on “Newspaper Row”, a stretch of properties occupied by
the DC offices of the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, New York Herald and the New York Evening Post.

The original structure was demolished in 1972, the present location of Old Ebbitt Grill is situated within the Second Empire-style hotel (also called Ebbitt House), which was erected in 1862.

Many of the original heirlooms have been preserved including the property’s collection of antique beer steins and the clock perched above the door.

The Victorian bar, a favourite of six US Presidents

The original Victorian bar, a favourite of six Presidents – Andrew Johnson (17th), Ulysses S. Grant (18th), Grover Cleveland (22nd/24th), William McKinley (25th), Theodore Roosevelt (26th) and Warren Harding (29th) – has been replicated here to exact details.

The Place to Be

This place is the place to be for the Who’s Who of DC to meet and dine.

Due to its proximity to the White House, it was a favourite of United States Secret Service personnel as well as tourists. And before security was so tight, presidents like it here too. Especially President Teddy Roosevelt, he came here often and even gifted some of the stuffed animal trophies that are displayed around the dining room.

Some of these taxidermy birds were said to be give by Teddy

Old Ebbitt Grill was the site of a discussion among administration officials hoping to protect President Reagan from fallout related to the Iran–Contra affair of 1986. President George H. W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush met the singer and actor Sting at Old Ebbitt Grill in September 1989 after his Washington debut in the title role in Three Penny Opera. The Rolling Stones dined at the restaurant a few weeks later after a concert in the city.

The Dinner

The legendary seafood tower – The Orca

D.C. diners love to indulge, whether it be to impress a client, celebrate a special occasion, or just to flex. Shelling out big bucks for towering, multi-plate seafood platters from a raw bar is one of the best ways to splurge, especially considering local riches of oysters, clams, and other seafood. 

The Oyster Bar (photo from Washington Post)

In November 1994, Old Ebbitt Grill reopened its oyster bar to much press attention. Washington Post food critic Eve Zibart, writing in August 1995, said that its highly polished woodwork, counter facing the ice bed and shuckers, and excellent selection of oysters made it a “first-class raw bar”. I was attracted this place for this exact reason.

One pound Maine lobster staring at you from the top of the seafood tower

Old Ebbitt Grill has been rated as one of the best oyster bar in US. Besides raw and chilled seafood, they also serve specialty canned seafood, just like the Preserves Bars in Spain and Portugal. And they have a full menu of hot hor d’oeuvres and main courses too.

Bagette and creamed butter

Whipped butter with baguette, the standard accompaniment of the seafood tower. The baguette was cold though, but it was still crusty.

6 little neck clams

The towers came in four sizes; the most luxurious one is called The Poseidon, after the God of the Seas, comes with a can of caviar. We ordered one tier down – The Orca, the killer whale – which came with one pound boiled Maine lobster, a generous portion of jumbo lump crabmeat salad, 24 freshly shucked oysters from three different regions, 12 chilled jumbo shrimps, and 6 little neck clams.

12 chilled jumbo shrimps

The oysters we had were from Canada and served with cocktail sauce with fresh grated horseradish and classic mignonette. Seriously, we could not taste any subtle differences between the three varieties.

  • Belle Du Jour (Crassostrea virginica Boutouche Bay) – New Brunswick, Canada – medium size, briny with a sweet finish
  • Dixon Point (Crassostrea virginica Boutouche) – New Brunswick, Canada – medium size, crisp and briny with a sweet finish
  • Summer Love (Crassostrea virginica Rustico) – Prince Edward Island, Canada – medium size, sweet with a slight briny finish
One whole Maine lobster

I always felt the lobster on a seafood tower was the least value for money of the lot. In this case, the lobster was still sweet and tasty. The little neck clams were delicious as well. It was the lump crabmeat salad that failed the expectation tonight.

Really good oysters

Oyster Riot is an annual oyster eating event held at Old Ebbitt Grill each November on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The first Oyster Riot was held in October 1995 to promote Old Ebbitt Grill’s oyster bar.

A four-hour, all-you-can eat and drink event held on one day, the oyster bar served 15 to 20 different varieties of oyster, and matched them with seven to 10 different types of wine. By 2011 Oyster Riot had expanded to a three-day event held on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Steak frites

And to put something warm into our cold digestive system, we ordered a steak frites to share. It was a decent cut of 8-oz. NY strip steak, french fries, watercress salad dressed with vinaigrette and served with shallot-Dijon cream sauce. We finished the fries. The steak was alright.

Afterthoughts

How do you maintain an old and prestigious name, especially a restaurant, without changing what it stands for? Old Ebbitt Grill has done exactly that. It was a watering hole for the stressed out politicians of DC, a chillax place where partisans politics goes out of the window. It keeps the diners happy with high quality food, and generosity in terms of portions.

It didnt matter the rain outside the windows

These days, it’s more the tourists that come here, but that doesn’t matter. I am a tourist in DC too.

Old Ebbitt Grill
675 15th Street NW, Washington, DC 20005 
Tel : +1 202.347.4800

Visited in Aug 2022

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