A soft opening is a a pretty good test of how a restaurant will fare. It’s a test of the staff- can they handle a rush of crazed Washingtonians eager to dine on free, fresh seafood? It’s a test of the customers- as in, are we willing to line up outside on a fiendishly hot night, to eat seafood in a place where the only water in sight is the intermittent spattering of the wet stuff.
The answer to the last is easy. This is Tackle Box, after all, and this is Cleveland Park, not Sparta. Despite some hot, muggy weather you can hardly call it dining in hell when there’s a red line Metro stop nearby, decent parking, and did I mention it was free?
The real test was the weather: staggering heat mingled with fat raindrops that felt like the explosions of tiny water balloons. Families huddled, yups and hipsters cowered under awnings. Some fled. We were fine with that. “More for us!” we crowed, triumphantly, opening our umbrellas. Then we were informed that there was no more lobster, but that there was a raw bar. “Make mine a dozen,” we chortled.
As a reward for not fleeing the scene, we were offered free beer and wine, raw bar oysters, and delicious fish in a space that looked like it should reek of the sea, but instead reeked of character- an old Mickey D’s repurposed into a happenin’ lobster shack. Staffers offered beer and wine (the signature Tackle Box Beer was long gone by 7pm, but the Harpoon IPA and Natty Boh were flowing and the Dogfish IPA was on offer in bottles). The staff gets an A for handling the rush admirably- we were given generous amounts of good cheer and lots of little extras, because what’s a few brownies and an extra basket of fries between friends? But then that’s what you’d expect from a restaurant whose mission is eco-friendly and entails a lot of “saying ‘yes’ to new solutions and different kind of environmentalism”.
For us, the real standout of the evening was the dozen oysters artfully arranged in a bowl of ice, served with a slice of lemon and two little pots of condiments- the ubiquitous cocktail sauce and a tangy vinaigrette. We eschewed the plastic fork, and tipped back our briny bivalves with only a sprinkle of fresh lemon. After a dozen each, all else was a bonus. The rainbow trout was delicious as were the grilled vegetable sides (broccoli and corn were on offer, but the menu includes asparagus as well), and Portobello cap served with lightly mayo’d slaw passed our taste test. The green salad, which we thought would be a side dish, came in a basket with blackened chicken and pesto. At that point we were sated- a member of the wait staff graciously wrapped it up without a word.
Consider this test a no-brainer. If you’re familiar with the Georgetown outpost then this is more of the same with good food, great atmosphere, and good prices (including extra credit- happy hours with $1 oyster shooters). With the Uptown just across the street I forsee a great summer for Tackle Box.
3407 Connecticut Ave. NW