Here in Washington, there’s an increased focus on the decór and ambiance in restaurants as the industry gets increasingly competitive. And, I absolutely love that. A little friendly competition is a good thing—a rising tide elevates all ships, if you will.
Gone are the days when it was acceptable to dine in uncomfortable, stuffy, leather booths at stodgy steakhouses with dark, droll decor. Restaurant build outs are getting more creative, more diverse, and more memorable.
And, if a restaurant was to get my Bitch-approved award for best design, Whaley’s would certainly be it. The seafood-centric restaurant located in Navy Yard/Capitol Riverfront went with a chic, bright, and airy design inspired by old-timey New England seafood restaurants. It exudes charm. It makes me want to use the twinkle star emoji. You get the picture.
The space is small, with incredibly high ceilings, and an Under the Sea mural with pastel dolphins and crabs on the upper portion of its oh-so-high walls. The focal point is the bar at the center of the restaurant, which has an overhanging white trellis and is lined with vintage-style white stools to match. It reminds me of a 1950s ice cream shop. It’s playful and charming.
The booths are wooden benches, painted in grey and white, with Carrera marble tables, perfect for my favorite overhead Instagram shots.
Appropriately, I was brunching today with Justin, the Instagram sensation behind @DCFoodPorn. A gentleman after my own heart, we both love food and Instagram, and show up late to brunch. I breezed in on a sunny, brisk fall day—and he had just arrived, snagging a booth with great lighting. Smart man. Justin is a savvy, sweet, and well-dressed young gent. And, while I love ogling his Instagram page, I will say that I enjoyed spending time with him in person even more. (And that doesn’t always happen when you meet internet friends IRL.)
We began with a dozen oysters, a French press of coffee, and his and hers cocktails: a Bloody Mary and a mimosa. The mimosas was served in an over-sized champagne flute (which are also quite trendy these days.) It was incredibly light and frothy. I was grateful that it was made with good champagne—no Bitch likes a 6 p.m. Sunday hangover from cheap champagne.
Garnished with olive, celery, and a lemon slice, the Bloody Mary was light and spicy—the kind that is easy to sip on but still packs flavor.
Expectedly, the oysters were incredibly fresh, as they came straight off the raw bar, which was manned by an attractive, smiling young lad shucking away on an elevated platform. I love an element of entertainment in a brunch. We tried a variety of east and west coast oysters, and appreciated the fresh selection and our waiter’s knowledge on the varietals.
As we both eat a lot of unhealthy, but delicious, Instagram-worthy fare, we appreciated the preponderance of healthy options on the menu at Whaley’s. We shared two crudos: the fluke crudo, with sliced red peppers and sliced hearts of palm. It was dressed in a light sauce and incredibly fresh and smooth.
The real winner was the arctic char crudo, prepared in a style inspired by salmon and lox. The arctic char was citrus cured, rolled up, and sprinkled with bread crumbs. This is a delicious appetizer that’s easy to share and crowd-pleasing.
We needed some greens, so we opted to share the kale salad. Well, we shared everything.The kale salad was garnished with all things delicious: bacon bits, hazelnut crumbles, pear slices, and fresh blueberries. It was the first time I’d seen all that on a salad—save for perhaps at Sweetgreen—and it was delightfully delicious.
By way of entrees, Whaley’s has a Southern menu, with items like fried green tomato sandwiches, chicken fried oysters, shrimp n’ grits, and buttermilk pancakes.
Justin tried the tuna burger, which was served with avocado, pickled red onion, Harissa mayo, and served on a soft ciabatta bun. It was served with Old Bay chips, for extra Southern flair. The sandwich was enormous—the patty so big and the sandwich so stacked it was almost too big to take a bite. I don’t love tuna burgers—I’d prefer a regular burger. But, I did steal a chip or two. The sandwich was well executed and also available at lunch.
Having had quite a few Southern brunches in my day, I consider myself an expert on shrimp n’ grits. This rendition was beautifully plated, classically prepared, and packed with flavor.
The real winner of the day were the buttermilk pancakes, which were nothing short of heavenly. These dense, moist buttermilk pancakes were delicious, despite not being the fluffy, thick hotcakes that I prefer. They were so dense, in fact, that it was hard to have more than a few bites. They were topped with thin slices of fresh, crisp Granny Smith apple, hazelnut crumbles, and a creamy, rich maple mascarpone. The rich pancakes make a great brunch dessert, perfect for sharing among the table.
The Bitches & @DCFoodPorn say: A. A beautiful restaurant serving delicious Southern fare, fresh oysters, and delightful cocktails.
301 Water St. S.E. #115,
Washington, D.C. 20003
Whaley’s serves brunch Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.