Caribbean cuisine praises St. James

Just off the hustle and bustle of U Street NW is the breeze and bubbling St James. The restorer’s sophomore effort Jeanine PremierMichelin owner Cane on H Street NE, it’s a tribute to Caribbean cuisine with an emphasis on the traditions of its native Trinidad. The name refers to a lively neighborhood in the island’s capital, Port of Spain.

The lushness and light of her homeland inspired Prime when she designed the space. Bottles, with hints of greenery behind them, line the bar on the left side of the main room, with banquettes on the right, highs in the center, and a palm tree mural on the far wall. With high ceilings, a second level perches aft, providing additional seating or private event space. Two-story windows to the front let in a sundeck, complemented by funky filament light fixtures at varying heights. The nearly 70-seat layout invites you to hang out, have great conversations, and really get down to it.

To help loosen the tongues, there’s a rum cocktail program overseen by Glendon Hartleyco-founder of Service bar on U Street, recently named one of the “50 Best Bars in North America” ​​and Amazon Bar in Blagden Alley. Over 50 different rums are available, including a number from across the Caribbean: Appleton, El Dorado and Plantation. For something non-alcoholic, order a scotch bonnet fizz – just the right amount of sweetness and spice pairs well with a peppery undertone.

Let’s talk about food. It was to be supervised by Jeanine’s brother, chef Peter Firstbut shortly before St. James’s opened, he announced that he would be running the kitchen at Bammy’sNavy Yard’s Caribbean restaurant opened by Maydan Veterans Chris Morgan and Gerald Addison. Now Emma Hernandez oversees the kitchens at St. James and Cane, while Alfredo Romero Contrerasa Fiola Mare alum, is the head chef of St. James.

Aloo and Channa pies in St. James Credit: Nevin Martell

In collaboration with Jeanine Prime, the chefs have concocted a menu borrowing from the Caribbean. Pork pow — think Trini bao buns — is plump with ground pork amped up with ginger, a few alliums, and the requisite scotch bonnet peppers. Dip them in the seasoned oyster sauce for full effect. Aloo and Chana pies are another winning way to start, evoking Trinidad’s signature double sandwiches. The deep-fried batter is split open so the cumin and garlic spiced potatoes can be slipped inside, then topped with curried chickpeas, culantro and tamarind.

The salt cod crudo pushes the limits. Tender ribbons of fish are surrounded by big flavors: a hot spot of red aji peppers, a yellow touch of curried onions and svelte light green flecks of whipped avocado.

Salt Cod Crudo in St. James Credit: Nevin Martell

Moving on to the main course, tradition takes over. Highlights include brown stewed chicken, grilled oxtails, and pork swimming in a coconut milk sauce with groceries (shortcut for root vegetables, such as taro, yam, and pear tree). bread).

The star of the show is the paratha platter built to be shared, a rip and dip extravaganza. Four bowls take center stage: murtani (a large curry of fire-roasted tomatoes, eggplant and okra), aloo chana (chickpea and potato curry), and bone-in chunks of beef and lamb , each slowly and slowly braised with an island curry mix and Trinidadian green seasoning (a flavor building, foundational blend of onions, garlic, culantro, scotch bonnet peppers and lime). Remove scraped pieces of paratha bread to sear a little here, a little there. Finish with a dunk in pineapple, tamarind and culantro sauces on the side. No two bites are the same, keeping things interesting down to the last piece of bread.

Don’t be ashamed if you order this intoxicating spread as a solo dinner. I proudly enjoyed it all on my own and was more than happy to enjoy leftovers for lunch the next day.

Desserts get a helping hand from Prime’s high school friend Winnette McIntosh Ambroisenow famous DC pastry chef and owner of souk and The sweet hall on the row of barracks. She makes the chocolate ginger mousse sprinkled with crunchy chocolate pearls and featherweight profiteroles that are pocketed with homemade ice cream drizzled with sauce (think coconut ice cream accented with ginger caramel). The kitchen team also concocts an invigorating mango sorbet offset by a sorrel syrup with a tangy rhubarb flavor.

The night I visited was my waiter’s birthday. I knew that because she wore a prom-style belt emblazoned with the phrase “Birthday Babe.” She was turning 20, finally an adult after two years of “adult-ish.” I asked why 21 is not the adulthood bar in his book. “Now that I’m paying rent and tuition, I feel like I’ve grown up,” she replied happily, before adding that she looked forward to the cupcakes her co-workers gave her. bought to celebrate after work.

There were a few minor issues with the service – a poorly delivered dish; another forgotten; each was quickly fixed, but were otherwise engaged, energetic and smiling tirelessly. It’s the kind of place I wanted to make friends with whoever was at my table. The food will keep bringing me back, but I will want to linger because of the people.

St. James, 2017 14th St. NW, (202) 627-2981,

Michael M. Tomlin